Testosterone patches are the female equivalent of the drug Viagra, as they improve the sex lives and well-being of post-menopausal women, scientists have found.

Testosterone patches are the female equivalent of the drug Viagra, as they improve the sex lives and well-being of post-menopausal women, scientists have found.

In the first study made using testosterone patches on post-menopausal women who have had their ovaries and uterus surgically removed, researchers found that giving women a regular dose of testosterone stopped their libido falling, a common side-effect of the menopause.

Although testosterone is primarily a male hormone, in women the ovaries produce about half of the testosterone that circulates in the bloodstream. Once the ovaries are removed or affected by the menopause, both the production of oestrogen, the female hormone, and testosterone are affected and scientists have long believed that there could be a link between low testosterone levels and sex drive.

The research, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, is the first to show that testosterone patches can allow people to maintain an active sex life. Doctors from the Department of Medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Massachusetts found a direct link between levels of testosterone in a post-menopausal woman's body and sexual desire and activity.

All the 75 women who took part in the study were also on hormone replacement therapy, which replenishes oestrogen levels in the body, stopping some of the side-effects of the menopause such as mood swings and hot flushes, but does not stop loss of libido.

The women, who were aged 31 to 56, participated in three consecutive 12-week treatment periods, receiving two abdominal patches that were changed twice a week.

They filled in sexual functioning and psychological well-being questionnaires at the end of each session. In some of the treatment spells, placebo patches that contained no testosterone were used.

The researchers found that treatment with higher dosesof testosterone improved sexual function and psychological well-being substantially more than the placebo patches.

They also found that the testosterone patches did not interfere with the beneficial effects of hormone replacement therapy and none of the women in the study suffered from physical side-effects such as increases in facial or body hair or acne.

Overall, the results showed that testosterone levels increased to within normal ranges and was well tolerated.

A larger-scale European research programme, involving several centres including Hull Royal Infirmary, was launched last month, to do further tests on the patches.

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