What is hyperandrogenism?

Hyperandrogenism refers to high levels of androgen hormones, especially testosterone, in the body. The condition can affect men or women, but is usually more noticeable and destructive in female patients. Elevated testosterone can cause a number of physical symptoms, including excessive hair growth, a deep voice, and acne. Also, women often have irregular menstrual cycles and may not be able to conceive. Specific treatment measures depend on the underlying causes of hyperandrogenism, but most cases can be managed with androgen-suppressing steroids and other medications that target particular symptoms.

The most common cause of hyperandrogenism in women is an inherited condition called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which tends to start causing symptoms shortly after puberty. Hormonal imbalances lead to abnormal egg production, and the immature eggs remain in the ovaries and create cysts instead of being released 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 men and women of reproductive age. Also, benign or cancerous tumors in the adrenal glands, ovaries, or other parts of the body can overproduce androgens.

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

A person who notices signs of hyperandrogenism should visit a doctor to receive a proper diagnosis. A doctor may assess symptoms and collect blood samples to check for elevated hormone levels and use imaging scans to check for cysts or tumors. If an unusual mass is found in the adrenal glands or ovaries, a biopsy may need to be done to check for cancer.

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

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