Thirty-eight women, aged 25-65 yr, with androgen deficiency due to hypopituitarism were treated with oral dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA; 30 mg/d if <45 yr of age and 20 mg if > or =45 yr of age) for 6 months in a randomized, placebo-controlled, double blind study, followed by a 6-month open treatment period. The administration of DHEA raised the serum levels of DHEAS to normal age-related reference ranges and increased androstenedione and T to subnormal levels. Androgen effects on skin and/or pubic and/or axillary hair were observed in 84% (32 of 38) of the women after all received 6 months of DHEA treatment. No such effects were observed after the placebo treatment. These effects after 6 months were correlated with the serum levels of DHEAS (r = 0.37; P = 0.03), androstenedione (r = 0.42; P = 0.01), and T (r = 0.37; P = 0.03). The percentages of partners who reported improved alertness, stamina, and initiative by their spouses were 70%, 64%, and 55%, respectively, in the DHEA group and 11%, 6%, and 11%, respectively, in the placebo group (P < 0.05). According to the partners, sexual relations tended to improve compared with placebo (P = 0.06). After 6 months of treatment, increased sexual interest or activity was reported by 50% of the women taking 30 mg DHEA, by none taking 20 mg DHEA, and by two women taking placebo (P = NS). Compared with levels after placebo administration, high density lipoprotein cholesterol and apolipoprotein A-1 levels decreased after DHEA. Serum concentrations of IGF-I, serum markers of bone metabolism, and bone density did not change. In conclusion, oral administration of a low dose of DHEA to adult hypopituitary women induced androgen effects on skin and axillary and pubic hair as well as changes in behavior, with only minor effects on metabolism.