Hyperandrogenism, also known as androgen excess, is a medical condition characterized by excessive levels of androgens (male sex hormones such as testosterone) in the female body and the associated effects of the elevated androgen levels. It is an endocrinological disorder similar to hyperestrogenism. The more prominent signs of hyperandrogenism are hirsutism (unwanted growth of hair especially in the abdominal region and places on the back), acne after adolescence, deepening of voice, and alopecia (balding).
Hyperandrogenism affects 5-10% of females of reproductive age. Hyperandrogenism can affect both males and females, but is more noticeable in females due to the fact that elevated levels of androgens in females often facilitates virilization. Due to the fact that hyperandrogenism is characterized by the elevation of male sex hormone levels, symptoms of hyperandrogenism in men are often negligible. Hyperandrogenism in females is typically diagnosed in late adolescence with a medical evaluation.
Hyperandrogenism, especially high levels of testosterone, can cause serious adverse effects on women’s bodies if left untreated. High testosterone levels have been seen to be associated with obesity, hypertension, amenorrhea (stop of menstrual cycles), and ovulatory dysfunction, which can lead to infertility.
Hyperandrogenism has also been seen to cause individuals to have a high tolerance to insulin, which can lead to type two diabetes, and dyslipidemia, such as high cholesterol. These effects have also been seen to have a large psychological impact on the individual, sometimes often leading to societal anxiety and depression, especially in adolescent girls and young women. Paired with obesity and hirsutism, it can cause the individual to have low self-esteem, and a poor view of oneself.
Even though hyperandrogenism is not common in men, there have been studies done to look at the effects of high levels of testosterone in male bodies. A study has shown that even though many of the male participants did not have behavior changes due to the increased levels of testosterone, there were cases where the participants had instances of uncharacteristic aggression. High levels of testosterone in males have not been seen to have a direct impact on their personality, but within those studies, there have been cases of sudden aggression within the male participants.
Sign and symptoms
The signs and symptoms of hyperandrogenism include the following :
- Hirsutism – male-pattern hair growth
- Alopecia – balding
- Masculine appearance
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome
- Oligomenorrhea – menstrual irregularities
- Deepening of voice
- Oily skin
- Seborrhea – skin inflammation
- Libido – increased sex drive
- Type 2 diabetes
Risk factors and prevention
Since risk factors are not known and vary among individuals with hyperandrogegism, there is no sure method to prevent this medical condition. Therefore, more longterm studies are needed first to find a cause for the condition before being able to find a conclucive prevention plan.
However, there are a few things that can help avoid long-term medical issues related to hyperandrogenism. Getting checked by a medical professional for hyperandrogenism; especially if one has a family history of the condition, irregular periods, or diabetes; can be beneficial. Watching your weight and diet is also important in decreasing your chances, especially in obese females, since continued exercise and maintaining a healthy diet leads to an improved menstrual cycle as well as to decreased insulin levels and androgen concentrations.
Treatment of hyperandrogenism varies with the underlying condition that causes it. As a hormonal symptom of polycystic ovary syndrome, menopause, and other endocrine disorders, it is primarily treated as a symptom of these disorders. Systemically, it is treated with antiandrogens such as cyproterone acetate, flutamide and spironolactone to control the androgen levels in the patient’s body. For Hyperandrogenism caused by Late-Onset Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH), treatment is primarily focused on providing the patient with Glucocorticoids to combat the low cortisol production and the corresponding increase in androgens caused by the swelling of the Adrenal Glands. Oestrogen-based oral contraceptives are used to treat both CAH and PCOS caused hyperandrogenism. These hormonal treatments have been found to reduce the androgen excess and suppress adrenal androgen production and cause a significant decrease in hirsutism.
Hyperandrogenism is often managed symptomatically. Hirsutism and acne both respond well to the hormonal treatments described above, with 60-100% reporting an improvement in hirsutism. Androgenic alopecia however, does not show a significant improvement with hormonal treatments and requires other treatments, such as hair transplantation.