High Testosterone Levels: About and Causes

Medically reviewed

Medically reviewed by Brenda G., MD | Written by SheCares Editorial Team | Updated: Jun 18, 2020

High testosterone levels

On the other side of the spectrum of low testosterone levels in women is high testosterone, which can be just as damaging.

Understanding the reasons why a woman would suffer from high testosterone levels is key to resolving the hormonal imbalance. Discover more by continuing on to the following sections about excess testosterone levels and its causes.

About High Testosterone Levels

What is elevated testosterone

Throughout a woman's reproductive life, normal total testosterone levels from blood serum range from 6 - 86 ng/dL. Accordingly, high testosterone levels would be any range above that.

Different laboratories may have slightly varied ways to define a healthy testosterone range, but the value itself depends upon age and stage in a woman's reproductive life. Nonetheless, abnormal variations from this range can occur, and it is important to understand their influences.

Causes of High Testosterone Levels

Healthily and successfully lowering elevated testosterone levels in the female body first begins with understanding the hormonal imbalance's various causes.


Natural Causes of High Testosterone Levels

During Adulthood (20s to 40s)

Causes of high testosterone

During the menstrual cycle, unlike estrogen and progesterone, the effects of testosterone are not well understood. However, the hormone does peak around ovulation and also right before menstruation.

Also, during pregnancy, there is a significant increase in maternal testosterone levels, claimed to be up to four times non-pregnancy ranges. Studies have found that free testosterone levels remain within the same range until week 28, after which time it increases substantially.

At the time of parturition, testosterone and its androgen precursor androstenedione reach peak levels. Few days after delivery, both levels decrease to those of nonpregnant women.

During Perimenopause and After Menopause (40s and up)

During and after the menopausal transition, the adrenal glands and ovaries continue producing testosterone. By action of enzymes in peripheral tissues, this testosterone can be converted to estrogens, too.

Unless caused by disorders affecting the adrenal glands and ovaries, hormone replacement therapy (HRT), or other health conditions, it is uncommon for postmenopausal testosterone levels to be excessively high.

If a woman is suffering from symptoms of high testosterone levels, she should manage the underlying cause as soon as possible before more serious complications arise.


Lifestyle Factors that Cause High Testosterone Levels

Additionally, there are a couple lifestyle factors that can induce elevated testosterone:

  • Stress. Stress can lead to insulin resistance and increased cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) production, thus throwing off adrenal gland functions. Since DHEA is an androgen precursor to the more potent testosterone, this can lead to elevated testosterone levels.
  • Alcohol use. Studies have found that total testosterone levels are significantly higher after alcohol consumption for women. This effect was also noticed in free testosterone levels. 

Induced Causes of High Testosterone Levels

High levels of testosterone can also be credited to medications and treatments from exogenous hormone consumption.

One such instance is with HRT, during which levels could become dangerously extreme. This increases women's risk of developing serious conditions, such as heart disease, as well as various other side effects, such as male-patterned baldness, hirsutism, deepening of the voice, and more.


Other Causes of High Testosterone Levels

Furthermore, high testosterone levels can be the result of other conditions, such as:

  • Insulin resistance. In this condition, the body's tissues are resistant to insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas to control blood sugar, causing the body to compensate for it by producing extra. High insulin levels cause the ovaries to produce excessive amounts of testosterone, which interferes with follicle development and can inhibit ovulation.
  • Adrenal gland conditions. Adrenal gland disorders, such as adrenal neoplasms and congenital adrenal hyperplasia, as well as adrenal tumors, like androgen-secreting carcinomas and adenomas, can evoke high testosterone levels in women. Congenital adrenal hyperplasia, specifically, is a genetic disorder that manifests as lower levels of cortisol and higher levels of androgens produced by the adrenal glands.
  • Thyroid disorders. When thyroid function slows, as it does with hypothyroidism, sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) levels fall. SHBG helps bind free testosterone in the blood, reducing its impact in the female body. Without SHBG, unbound testosterone runs rampant.
  • Ovarian disorders. Ovarian hyperthecosis (OH) causes enlarged ovaries with small cysts on the outer edges. It is believed to be a part of a spectrum of disorders, including polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), resulting in a more severe form of hyperandrogenism, or androgen excess. Ovarian tumors and PCOS can also both cause excess androgen production.

Before the hormonal imbalance continues without warrant, find out more about the signs and symptoms of high testosterone, and stop it in its tracks.