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What is Hyperandrogenism?

By D. Jeffress
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Hyperandrogenism refers to high levels of androgen hormones, especially testosterone, in the body. The condition can affect men or women, but it is usually most noticeable and destructive in female patients. Elevated testosterone can cause a number of physical symptoms, including excessive hair growth, a deepening voice, and acne. In addition, women often have irregular menstrual cycles and may not be able to conceive. Specific treatment measures depend on the underlying causes, but most cases can be managed with androgen-suppressing steroids and other medications targeted at particular symptoms.

The most common cause in females is an inherited condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which tends to start causing symptoms shortly after puberty. Hormonal imbalances lead to abnormal egg production, and immature eggs stay in the ovaries and create cysts instead of releasing into the fallopian tubes. Cystic ovaries produce and release excessive levels of androgen hormones in the body. Another inherited disorder called congenital adrenal hyperplasia, which speeds up androgen production in the adrenal glands, can cause symptoms in both males and females of reproductive age. In addition, benign or cancerous tumors on the adrenals, ovaries, or elsewhere in the body may overproduce androgen.

The symptoms of hyperandrogenism can vary between patients based on their underlying conditions, but most people experience noticeable body and facial hair growth. Excess testosterone also affects sebaceous glands underneath the skin, leading to acne on the face, chest, and back. A woman's voice may become deeper, and her breasts may begin to shrink as well. PCOS-related hyperandrogenism often causes abnormally long menstrual cycles, and some women stop having periods at all. Infertility is common, and women who are able to conceive are likely to have early miscarriages.

An individual who notices signs of hyperandrogenism should visit a doctor to receive a proper diagnosis. A physician can evaluate symptoms and collect blood samples to check for elevated hormone levels and use diagnostic imaging scans to check for cysts or tumors. If an unusual mass is detected in the adrenals or ovaries, a biopsy may need to be conducted to check for cancer.

After making a diagnosis, a doctor may choose to administer corticosteroids to stop androgen production or prescribe specialized drugs that seek out and inactivate hormones in the body. Many female patients are prescribed oral contraceptives that contain estrogen and progesterone. Topical ointments may be given to combat acne and unusual hair growth. Surgery is only necessary if suspicious tumors are responsible for symptoms. By taking medications as directed and scheduling regular checkups, most people with hyperandrogenism experience full recoveries from their symptoms.

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