If you start growing chest hair, don't panic. Here's what could be up with your hormones.
What Is Excess Testosterone, Exactly?
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Hormones control everything from your metabolism to your mood, so it's no surprise that if you produce too little of this or too much of that, your body could start acting out. But when the level is off for one particular hormone—testosterone, the sex hormone that controls male physical features and is also present in women in lower doses—you might notice some unwanted side effects (things like hair growth, a deep voice, or skin issues).
Sometimes, elevated testosterone is a sign of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a condition linked with irregular menstrual cycles and ovarian cysts, says Partha Nandi, M.D., creator and host of the medical lifestyle television show Ask Dr. Nandi. It can also be genetic or simply a hormonal issue. The ideal testosterone range for women is below 40 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL), says Caroline Messer, M.D., a New York-based endocrinologist. If your levels are higher than that? You might notice these six symptoms—a few signs that it's time to talk to your doctor.
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"When you have high levels of testosterone, you can have an increase in the production of sebum (oil), which can clog the pores. Along with this, the bacteria on the face causes inflammation, leading to acne," explains Dr. Nandi.
Of course, acne can be related to several other factors, including stress, poor diet habits, not showering after a sweaty workout, or harsh face products. And often, if high testosterone levels are to blame, other symptoms crop up too. Washing your face frequently and not sleeping with makeup on can decrease flare-ups. If testosterone is to blame, medications like hormonal birth control—which contains progesterone and estrogen to balance out testosterone—can help, says Michelle Isley, M.D., an ob-gyn at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
Weird Hair Patterns
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We're not talking a few light strands here or there. Excess testosterone results in hair growth in areas where women't don't normally find hair, says Dr. Nandi, which might mean your chin or chest. Known as hirsutism, excess hair growth won't appear like soft "peach fuzz," so you should be able to tell the difference. If you're experiencing these symptoms, tell your doc. Electrolysis and laser hair removal could help remove unwanted hair, and oral contraceptives can help even out hormone levels, he says.
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Yes—you might snap out of frustration on occasion, but if you're noticeably down and on edge, it could signify an issue with your hormone production, says Nita Landry, M.D., a recurring cohost on the The Doctors. "Increased free testosterone can affect mood and even cause incidence of depression, as it can affect the individual's neurotransmitter receptors, leading to mood disorders and mood swings," says Dr. Nandi.
Similarly, mood swings can be associated with a number of different conditions, such as mental disorders, excess stress, disordered eating, and depression, among others. A physical and a blood test to check testosterone levels can help shed some light on the real issue.
A Deeper Voice
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According to Ricardo Lopez, M.D., an ob-gyn with Orlando Health Physician Associates in Orlando, FL, if you have excess testosterone, you might notice a deeper, huskier voice. It's kind of like the way your voice sounds when you're sick, minus the tissues.
More research still needs to be done, as these effects aren't well understood, experts say. Yet, if you notice your voice dropping, along with other symptoms of excess testosterone, it's best to check in with your doc.
Increase in Weight and Muscle Mass
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According to Dr. Landry, weight gain is common with excess testosterone production, as is an increase in muscle mass. In fact, obesity is a major cause of hirsutism, says Dr. Landry, and it's likely in those with polycystic ovary syndrome, as well. If you're gaining weight, don't immediately think excess testosterone: Weight gain can (of course) occur due to poor diet and lifestyle factors, lack of exercise, stress, or other medical conditions associated with the extra pounds, says Dr. Nandi.
A Charged Libido
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Turned on all the time? A 2016 study in the journal Hormones and Behavior found higher levels of testosterone linked to greater sexual desire. (Or maybe it's just the change in weather. Apparently warm temps turn up the heat on your sexual desire, as well.) Obviously, an uptick in libido isn't necessarily something to complain about. But if it's bothering you, affecting your life, or seems very random and out of the blue (and especially if it crops up with any of the other symptoms of excess testosterone), visit an endocrinologist.