Offensive body odor can cause embarrassment and self-consciousness in women. Body odor results from the breakdown of materials contained within sweat, and behaviors and medical conditions or medications that contribute to increased sweat can increase body odor. Fortunately, most cases of body odor and high testosterone in women are preventable with lifestyle changes and treatable with medications and medical care.
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Women who have high testosterone levels might experience symptoms such as a lack of menstrual periods, infertility, deepening of the voice and hirsuteness, or male-pattern hair growth. Those with a family history of hirsutism or polycystic ovarian syndrome have an increased risk of high levels of male hormones such as testosterone. In addition, women of Middle Eastern, Mediterranean or South Asian descent have an increased risk of developing high testosterone levels.
The bacterial breakdown of sweat is the cause of body odor, so an increase in sweating in women can lead to an increase in body odor. During menopause, estrogen levels decline, leading to a relative increase in male hormones such as testosterone; these hormonal fluctuations can lead to increased sweating. For women who are having to take testosterone hormone treatments, the side effects include anxiety and depression; these conditions can also lead to an increase in sweating.
There is no “normal” amount or smell for body odor. Each woman produces a characteristic body odor, and rather than the odor itself, physicians are more concerned with significant changes in the odor. Although men generally have higher testosterone levels than women, women actually have more sweat glands than men.
Over-the-counter combination antiperspirant-deodorants can treat most cases of body odor. These products work by making the skin too acidic for bacteria that produce odors to survive; in addition, perfumes are often added to the product to mask any lingering odors. Prescription deodorant products are available for severe cases of body odor. In women who have high levels of testosterone or other male hormones, doctors might prescribe doses of female hormones or perform surgery on the ovaries to restore the hormonal balance.
Bathing or showering daily can help remove bacteria that contribute to body odor problems from the skin. Wearing clothing made of natural materials such as cotton or silk can help prevent body odor from developing, as can eliminating foods such as garlic, onion and caffeinated drinks. Controlling stress and managing anxiety can decrease sweating and the body odor that often follows.