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By Katherine Lee Hypoactive sexual desire disorder is the most common form of female sexual dysfunction. It’s defined as a chronic lack of interest in sexual activity that causes a woman distress — if a woman doesn’t view the lack of sexual interest as a problem, then it isn’t one.

Many physiological factors can dampen the libido’s fire. Menopause or a chronic medical condition can lead to physical changes that can affect a woman’s sex drive or lead to discomfort or decreased pleasure during sex.

And so can some drugs.

Drugs (and an Herb) That Affect Libido

Certain medications can interfere with the balance of hormones and transmission of chemical messengers in the brain, causing problems with libido and a woman’s ability to achieve orgasm. A few common medications can cause hypoactive sexual desire disorder. These include:

Antidepressants. Medications used to treat depression and anxiety symptoms are the most common drugs that can lead to hypoactive sexual desire disorder and other types of sexual dysfunction.

As an example, some commonly used antidepressants that can decrease sexual desire include fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), and sertraline (Zoloft). These drugs are SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), which means they work by making the “feel-good” hormone serotonin more available in the brain, thus improving mood. The problem: “Serotonin has a positive effect on mood but can have a negative effect on libido and orgasm,” says Jennifer Berman, MD, a urologist, a specialist in female sexual medicine, and the director of Berman Women’s Wellness Center in Los Angeles.
Birth control pills. As many as 30 percent to 40 percent of women who take birth control pills, such as Loestrin, can experience hypoactive sexual desire disorder, says Dr. Berman. “Birth control pills lower testosterone, which can lower libido,” says Berman.
Antihypertensives. Some medications commonly prescribed for high blood pressure like diuretics (such as furosemide or Lasix) and beta blockers (such as metoprolol) can lead to hypoactive sexual desire disorder. These drugs can dampen libido and cause difficulty reaching orgasm.
Chemotherapy, anti-cancer drugs. Drugs used to treat cancer are also associated with a reduced lack of sexual interest and hypoactive sexual desire disorder. For example, tamoxifen, a breast cancer drug, can lower estrogen levels, which can lower libido, says Berman. Cyclophosphamide, a chemotherapy drug, can cause vaginal dryness, reduced libido, and difficulty reaching orgasm.
Acne medications. Spironolactone is a drug that is usually prescribed to treat acne. It is also a diuretic that can be used to treat blood pressure or heart failure. It can have a negative effect on libido and lead to hypoactive sexual desire disorder.
Saw palmetto. This herbal remedy may lower testosterone and can play a role in hypoactive sexual desire disorder.

Women and Sexual Dysfunction: Replacing Medications

Women who experience hypoactive sexual desire disorder due to medications can try switching medications or finding alternative treatments. If the problem stems from oral contraceptives, the woman can consider switching to other forms of birth control such as an intrauterine device, says Berman.

If antidepressants are the cause, you may want to discuss with your doctor the possibility of reducing your dose or even consider looking for other causes of your mood disorder. (One often-overlooked cause of depression is hormonal imbalance, says Berman.) You can also consider switching to a more dopamine-driven drug, which is less likely to cause hypoactive sexual desire disorder.

As an alternative to hypertensive drugs that may cause hypoactive sexual desire disorder, you may want to consider calcium channel blockers or ACE inhibitors. “These drugs are less likely to have a negative impact on libido,” says Berman.

If you have hypoactive sexual desire disorder, discuss your options with your doctor. If medications are causing your hypoactive sexual desire disorder, you have options that can help you achieve a more satisfactory sex life.

Learn more in the Everyday Health Sexual Health Center.

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