CASE Midlife woman with low libido causing distress
At her annual gynecologic visit, a 55-year-old woman notes that she has almost no interest in sex. In the past, her libido was good and relations were pleasurable. Since her mid-40s, she has noticed a gradual decline in libido and orgasmic response. Sexual frequency has declined from once or twice weekly to just a few times per month. She has been married for 25 years and describes the relationship as caring and strong. Her husband is healthy with a good libido; his intermittent erectile dysfunction is treated with a phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitor. The patient’s low libido is distressing, as the decline in sexual frequency is causing some conflict for the couple. She requests that her testosterone level be checked because she heard that treatment with testosterone cream will solve this problem.
Evaluating and treating low libido in menopausal women
Low libido is a very common sexual problem for women. When sexual problems are accompanied by distress, they are classified as sexual dysfunctions. Although ObGyns should discuss sexual concerns at every comprehensive visit, if the patient has no associated distress, treatment is not necessarily indicated. A woman with low libido or anorgasmia who is satisfied with her sex life and is not bothered by these issues does not require any intervention.
Currently, the only indication for testosterone therapy that is supported by clinical trial evidence is low sexual desire with associated distress, known as hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD). Although other sexual problems also commonly occur in menopausal women, such as disorders of orgasm and pain, testosterone is not recommended for these problems. In addition, testosterone is not approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of female sexual dysfunction.
Routinely inquire about sexual functioning
Ask your patients about sexual concerns at every comprehensive visit. You can easily incorporate into the review of systems a general question, such as, “Do you have any sexual concerns?” If the patient does mention a sexual problem, schedule a separate visit (given appointment time constraints) to address it. History and physical examination information you gather during the comprehensive visit will be helpful in the subsequent problem-focused visit.
Taking a thorough history is key when addressing a patient’s sexual problems, since identifying possible etiologies guides treatment. Often, the cause of female sexual dysfunction is multifactorial and includes physiologic, psychologic, and relationship issues.
- Evidence supports low-dose transdermal testosterone in carefully selected menopausal women with HSDD and no other identifiable reason for the sexual dysfunction
- Inform women considering testosterone for HSDD of the limited effectiveness and high placebo responses seen in clinical trials
- Women also must be informed that treatment is off-label (no testosterone formulations are FDA approved for women)
- Review with patients the limitations of compounded medications, and discuss possible adverse effects of androgens. Long-term safety is unknown and, as androgens are converted to estrogens
Explore potential causes, recommend standard therapies
Common causes of low libido in menopausal women include vasomotor symptoms, insomnia, urinary incontinence, cancer or another major medical problem, weight gain, poor body image, genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM) with dyspareunia, fatigue, stress, aging, relationship duration, lack of novelty, relationship conflict, and a partner’s sexual problems. Other common etiologies include depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders, as well as medications used to treat these disorders, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
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