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Hi All, I found this to be an interesting read.



Dermatology, March 2005 Journal Scan


Archives of Dermatology

March 2005 ( Volume 141, Number 3 )

Correlation Between Serum Levels of Insulin-like Growth Factor 1, Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate, Dihydrotestosterone and Acne Lesion Counts in Adult Women

Cappel M, Mauger D, Thiboutot D

Archives of Dermatology. 2005; 141 (3) : 333-338

Excessive sebum secretion plays a major role in the pathogenesis of acne vulgaris (AV). A previous study noted that elevated serum levels of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) correlated with acne in a group of young women.[1] Additional hormones known to influence sebum production include the androgens dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEA-S) and dihydrotestosterone (DHT); elevated levels of these hormones have been correlated with acne severity in teenagers and premenarchal females.[2]

Hypothesizing that these factors may also influence the onset and severity of acne in adult men and women, Cappel and colleagues measured IGF-1 and androgen levels in a cohort of 34 volunteers (8 men, 8 women with clinical AV; 10 women, 8 men without AV). Subjects ranged in age from 18 to 45 years, and all were asked about the presence or absence of acne, acne severity and duration, and prior acne treatments. Participants were excluded if they had recent acne treatment (oral or topical), prior treatment with oral retinoids, current use of hormonal therapies such as oral contraception, or a history of endocrine disease. All qualifying candidates underwent serum sampling and clinical evaluation to assess the number of inflammatory, comedonal, and total acne lesions. For the study's main outcome measure, age-adjusted serum levels of IGF-1, DHEA-S, DHT, and androstenedione were correlated with the presence and clinical severity of AV.

On the basis of these data, Cappel and colleagues found that serum IGF-1, DHEA-S, and DHT levels all positively correlated with the total number of inflammatory and comedonal acne lesions in adult women. In contrast, serum IGF-1 levels did not correlate with acne severity in adult men, who showed a positive correlation between acne lesion counts and serum androgen levels (DHEA-S and androstenedione). This led investigators to conclude that serum IGF-1 levels (and possibly growth hormone levels, which stimulate IGF-1 production) may contribute more to the development of AV in women than in men; however, elevated androgen levels worsen acne in both males and females. They also found that in adults, serum IGF-1 correlates with androgen levels, although this may be a complex interaction.


Sebum production strongly influences the course and severity of AV, and this likely accounts for the efficacy of treatments capable of inhibiting hyperactive sebaceous glands (eg, isotretinoin, spironolactone). Sebaceous glands express receptors for growth hormone (GH), IGF-1, and DHT, suggesting that all of these factors may be involved in the pathogenesis of AV.[3] Although GH is difficult to measure, serum IGF-1 and androgen levels are readily quantified. In the above study, Cappel and colleagues report some interesting findings with potential therapeutic implications:

1. IGF-1 levels are correlated with acne severity in women, and there is a trend towards above-normal elevation in adult women with acne vs age-matched controls.

2. In both adult men and women, acne severity correlates with androgen levels (DHEA-S, DHT, androstenedione).

3. In women with acne, serum IGF-1 levels correlate with DHT levels.

4. In men with acne, IGF-1 levels correlate with DHEA-S and androstenedione levels.

Future studies should test whether the data from this small adult population can be generalized to a much larger pool of adolescents with acne. Attempts should also be made to stratify data based on the clinical morphology of acne, since certain subtypes (eg, "hormonal distribution" acne along the jawline, neck, and chin) probably differ in etiology from others (eg, comedonal acne in a young adolescent). Hopefully, an improved understanding of the hormonal underpinnings of acne will open new therapeutic avenues.


1. Aizawa H, Niimura M. Elevated serum insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) levels in women with postadolescent acne. J Dermatol. 1995;22:249-252.

2. Lucky AW, Biro FM, Huster GA, et al. Acne vulgaris in premenarchal girls. Arch Dermatol. 1994;130:308-14.

3. Thiboutot D, Gilliland K, Light J, Lookingbill D. Androgen metabolism in sebaceous glands from subjects with and without acne. Arch Dermatol. 1999;135:1041-1045.


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Interesting article GO.

Hormones in both male and females do affect the amount of acne that you have. In the males if they have an unbalanced hormone levels then their acne will get worst. Hormones produce oils in your skin. But in females, hormones affect them also but not as severe as the males. The females have the "Diane" pills to help them while the males suffer from acne unless they take accutane or some kind of hormone balance.

I once asked one of my clients, who is also a doctor and he said the only way the males can stop acne is to be castrated. YIKES!!! NO WAY dude! Thats like taking my hormones away and is same as taking my manhood away.

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I found this read, it's a long one. It's for the ladies and any questions regarding adult onset acne and hormones. I retrieved this from the following site: [Edited link out]

I found this read to be very informative!



Excerpt from

Ryan: Kistner's Gynecology & Women's Health, 7th ed.,

Copyright © 1999 Mosby, Inc.

Chapter 15 - Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and Hyperandrogenism




1. Most women with hyperandrogenism have either polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), defined as hyperandrogenism and chronic anovulation when other disorders are excluded, or idiopathic hirsutism, defined as hyperandrogenism and regular ovulatory menstrual cycles.

2. Significant morbid conditions are associated with PCOS, including endometrial hyperplasia, insulin resistance, diabetes mellitus type 2, and probably increased risk for cardiovascular disease.

3. Diagnostic evaluation should be focused on excluding ovarian and adrenal androgen-secreting tumors and screening for associated health risks including glucose intolerance and dyslipidemia.

4. Treatments that improve insulin sensitivity and result in lower serum insulin levels are potentially new therapies for hyperandrogenism.

The most common causes of hyperandrogenism are disorders of unknown cause: polycystic ovary syndrome and idiopathic hirsutism. These disorders affect approximately 5% of premenopausal women (Knochenhauer et al, 1998). In this chapter, we discuss the differential diagnosis of hyperandrogenism, the clinical correlates of the hyperandrogenic state, a diagnostic approach to masculinized women, and therapeutic options.


Masculinization is defined as clinical evidence of excess androgen action in women; it includes acne and alopecia in addition to hirsutism (Fig. 15-1) . True virilization is defined as temporal balding, deepening of the voice, increased muscle bulk, and clitoromegaly, and is the clinical consequence of severe hyperandrogenism. Masculinization results from the effects of either increased androgen production or enhanced androgen use by target tissues. The spectrum of hyperandrogenic conditions ranges from a subtle increase in terminal body hair to true virilization. Because of genetic differences in target tissue number and sensitivity to androgens, there may be no clinical sequelae of hyperandrogenism.

Androgens are steroid hormones synthesized and secreted directly by the adrenal glands and gonads (Longcope, 1986). Potent androgens are also converted from precursors in peripheral tissues, including skin and fat cells. Androgens are defined specifically by their ability in bioassay systems to induce growth and secretion by the prostate and seminal vesicles and to bind tightly to prostatic cytosolic androgen receptors. Like insulin and growth hormone, androgens are anabolic because they cause nitrogen retention.

In humans, testosterone is the biologically important extracellular androgen. It is metabolized into biologically active products and excretory products. The biologically active metabolites include the even more potent androgen, dihydrotestosterone (DHT), formed intracellularly through the 5alpha-reduction of testosterone, and the estrogen, estradiol (E2), formed through the aromatization of testosterone.

The ovaries and the adrenals secrete the androgen prehormones androstenedione (A) and ehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) under the control of luteinizing hormone (LH) and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), respectively. DHEA sulfate (DHEAS) is secreted almost exclusively by the adrenals. Testosterone (T) is secreted by the ovaries and the adrenals and is produced by the peripheral conversion of A and DHEA. Under normal circumstances, dihydrotestosterone (DHT) is formed entirely from the peripheral conversion of A and T. T and DHT circulate tightly bound to the high-affinity binding proteins and sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) and are loosely associated with albumin. Free T and that nonspecifically bound to albumin are biologically available to enter target tissues. In most androgen target tissues, T is converted to its more potent metabolite, DHT, by the 5alpha-reductase enzyme system. Both T and DHT bind to the androgen receptor, initiating androgen action. DHT is metabolized in the periphery to alpha;-androstanediol, which is then converted to 3alpha-androstanediol glucuronide and excreted. (Used with permission of A. Dunaif.)

Other androgens, such as androstenedione, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), and DHEA sulfate (DHEAS), are androgenic by their conversion to testosterone or DHT and, thus, are androgenic prehormones. Androgen production results from glandular secretion and peripheral conversion of these prehormones (mostly androstenedione and DHEA). In normal women, approximately 50% of circulating testosterone is secreted equally by the ovary and the adrenal gland (Longcope, 1986). Androstenedione is also equally secreted by them (Longcope, 1986). In contrast, 50% of DHEA is secreted by the adrenal gland, 20% is secreted by the ovary, and 30% is derived from the peripheral conversion of DHEAS, which is almost completely produced by the adrenal gland (Abraham, 1976). Under normal circumstances, serum DHT is formed entirely from the peripheral conversion of androstenedione (85%) and testosterone (15%) (Ito and Horton, 1971). Thus, androgen production can be increased in abnormal states by the increased glandular secretion of the potent androgen testosterone or by the increased glandular secretion of androgen prehormones such as androstenedione, DHEA, and DHEAS.

In the ovary androgens are precursors of estrogen production, and their production is under the control of luteinizing hormone (LH). Thus, feedback control of ovarian androgens is mediated by the effects of androgen metabolites ( i.e., estrogens) on the hypothalamus and the pituitary. In the adrenal cortex, androgen production is under the control of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). The only known feedback control of adrenal androgen secretion is mediated by cortisol feedback on the hypotholamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.

Biologic availability of androgens is related to the concentration of the high-affinity, androgen-binding protein produced by the liver known as sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG). Only free androgens and those nonspecifically bound to circulating albumin are able to enter tissues and produce biologic effects (Pardridge, 1981). SHBG has the greatest affinity for DHT, then for testosterone, and then for E2. There is minimal, if any, binding of androstenedione or DHEA to SHBG. Certain synthetic androgens and progestins ( e.g., levonorgestrel, which is contained in several oral contraceptive pills) have high affinities for SHBG and may displace endogenous steroids. Hepatic synthesis of SHBG is decreased by androgens and insulin and increased by estrogens and thyroid hormones. Consequently, testosterone and DHT availability can be enhanced by decreasing SHBG levels or by administering compounds that compete for SHBG binding sites.

The major component of the metabolic clearance rate (MCR) of androgens reflects hepatic metabolism and the renal excretion of metabolites. A smaller component of the MCR results from androgens that leave the circulation to act on target tissues. This extrasplanchnic metabolism is also known as peripheral utilization. Androgen utilization by peripheral tissues is the final determinant of target-tissue androgen action. The pilosebaceous unit consists of a pilary component and a sebaceous component and can differentiate into a terminal hair follicle or a sebaceous follicle. In the pilosebaceous unit, the chief enzyme regulating androgen utilization is 5alpha-reductase (Kutten et al, 1977; obo et al, 1983). In the pilosebaceous unit, the major 5alpha-reduced androgen DHT is more potent than testosterone. In ovarian granulosa cells, adipose tissue, muscle, and hypothalamus, the aromatase enzyme system converts testosterone to E2 and androstenedione to estrone (E1).

Dihydrotestosterone binds to specific cytosolic androgen receptors that are then translocated to the nucleus. The interaction of DHT with the nuclear androgen receptor (a member of the c-erbA oncogenic hormone receptor superfamily) initiates androgen-specific molecular and cellular responses. Testosterone may also bind directly to the androgen receptor in certain target tissues, such as skeletal muscle, without requiring 5alpha-reductase conversion to DHT. Individual variation in the masculinizing effects of androgens cannot be explained on the basis of androgen receptor levels. Although the androgen receptor is required for masculinization and its genetic absence results in a female phenotype in genetic males (testicular feminization syndrome), no differences in androgen receptor levels have been detected between hirsute women and normal women or normal men (Mowszowicz et al, 1983). Recent data suggest that in men the functional activity of the androgen receptor can be modulated by the number of polyglutamine tri-nucleotide repeats in the first exon. Hence, longer repeats are associated with decreased sperm counts (Tut et al, 1997), and shorter repeats are associated with increased risk for androgendependent prostate cancer (Irvine, 1994). Whether this androgen receptor variability modulates androgen action at the low androgen levels seen in women remains to be determined. Thus, the clinical diversity of response to androgens in women could result from variability in androgen production, androgen bioavailability, peripheral androgen utilization, or, potentially, androgen receptor sensitivity.







Oily skin and seborrhea


Cystic acne


Diffuse alopecia


Menstrual irregularities






Temporal balding




Deepening of the voice


Skeletal muscle hypertrophy and male body habitus


Mammary atrophy


Increased libido

Clinical Features of Hyperandrogenism

Most women with clinical evidence of hyperandrogenism have increased ovarian or adrenal androgen production (Bardin and Lipsett, 1967). In most hyperandrogenic women, SHBG levels are typically low, and free testosterone levels are elevated even when total testosterone levels are normal. Occasional women with normal circulating androgen levels may have isolated increased peripheral compartment (skin and hair follicle) androgen production from increased 5alpha-reductase activity (Horton et al, 1982) (Box 15-1) .


The most commonly appreciated expression of hyperan- drogenism is excess terminal hair in women. Hirsutism is defined as the transformation of vellus (fine, soft, unpigmented) to terminal (coarse, pigmented, longer) hair in androgen-dependent hair areas ( e.g., upper lip, chin, chest, back, pubis, thighs). Although the hormonal environment influences the conversion of vellus hairs to terminal hairs, the total number of hair follicles is genetically determined and is not changed by the hormonal environment. Racial and ethnic (but not sex) differences exist in total follicle number; for example, white persons have more follicles than Asians, and persons of Mediterranean descent have more follicles than those of northern European descent. The total hair follicle number influences the severity of the expression of hirsutism in hyperandrogenic women. For example, one fourth to one third of women of British and non-Scandinavian European origin may normally have terminal hair on the upper lip, periareolar area, or linea alba, whereas such hair must be considered abnormal in Asian and Scandinavian women



Idiopathic hirsutism


Polycystic ovarian syndrome


Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (classical and nonclassical)


Androgen-secreting neoplasms






Other medical conditions: Hypothyroidism, juvenile hypothyroidism, acute intermittent porphyria, malnutrition, anorexia nervosa, dermatomyositis, epidermolysis bullosa, Cornelia de Lange syndrome, postencephalitis period, onset of multiple sclerosis, nevoid hypertrichosis, and severe insulin resistance.


Medications: Minoxidil, phenytoin, corticosteroids, penicillamine, diazoxide, streptomycin, hexachlorobenzene, psoralens, and cyclosporine

(Ferriman and Gallway, 1961; Carmina et al, 1992). Unlike those areas, the upper abdomen, sternum, back, and shoulders are distinctly unusual sites for terminal hair in women and should be cause for further evaluation, even in women from genetic backgrounds with more baseline hair follicles. Finally, hirsutism must be differentiated from hypertrichosis, which is a generalized increase in vellus (lanugo in the neonate) but not terminal hair. Hypertrichosis may be associated with certain drugs, metabolic disorders, or malignancy.


Androgen stimulation of the pilosebaceous unit in most parts of the body produces increased hair diameter, pigmentation, rate of growth, and sebaceous gland secretion. Conversely, androgen stimulation of androgen-sensitive hair follicles on the scalp decreases the diameter and rate of hair growth, especially in the temporal area (male pattern baldness). Diffuse hair thinning can also be a sign of mild hyperandrogenism in women (Futterweit et al, 1988).


Increased production of sebum leads to acne in susceptible persons; if it is chronic, it can produce scarring. Occasionally, acne is the only sign of severe hyperandrogenism. Lucky et al (1983) found that women with acne alone had elevated free testosterone levels similar to those of women with hirsutism with or without acne.

Menstrual Irregularity and Infertility

Hyperandrogenism is often associated with chronic anovulation that results in menstrual irregularity (Hull, 1987). The anovulatory state can be associated with chronic, unopposed estrogen stimulation of the endometrium, resulting in endometrial hyperplasia, erratic heavy menstrual bleeding, and even endometrial carcinoma (Aiman et al, 1986). In addition, the reduced frequency of ovulation is associated with decreased opportunities for conception. Hyperandrogenism probably has an impact on fertility in addition to anovulation. Many studies suggest a decreased conception rate in spite of induced ovulation, and some suggest an increased risk for spontaneous miscarriage in hyperandrogenic women (Balen et al, 1993; Franks, 1995). The mechanisms for this androgen action remain to be determined.


In more severe forms of androgen excess, other masculinizing signs develop. These are referred to as true virilization, and they include increased muscle bulk, clitoromegaly [clitoral length greater than 1 cm or diameter greater than 0.5 cm (Tagatz et al, 1979)], temporal balding, and voice deepening. Clitoromegaly and voice changes are irreversible, even if androgen levels can be reduced to normal. Profound androgen excess may also inhibit breast growth and produce an android distribution of body fat.


Behavior may be affected by hyperandrogenism. The major source of data on this question derives from adult women with classic virilizing congenital adrenal hyperplasia, most of whom underwent attempts at surgical correction of clitoromegaly with variable success rates. Hochberg et al (1987) noted various psychological changes in genotypic females with virilizing congenital adrenal hyperplasia. These included altered personality, preadolescent tomboyishness, and injured body image, despite an eventual adjustment to feminine gender identity. Increased sex drive (coital and masturbation frequency), increased satisfaction threshold, and versatility in heterosexual relationships were also described in women with "late-treated" adrenogenital syndrome (Ehrhardt et al, 1968). Whether the poor success rate of their genital correction surgery, resulting in difficult or impossible heterosexual intercourse, confounds these findings is unknown. In the common hyperandrogenic disorders in which androgen levels are only modestly elevated ( e.g., testosterone levels ~100 ng/dL), behavioral changes have not been well studied. However, quality of life is compromised in women with PCOS, particularly because of obesity (Cronin et al, 1997).

Differential Diagnosis and Pathophysiology

A woman's concern about androgenic symptoms such as hirsutism or hair loss may differ depending on her ethnic background and her interpretation of normal, which may be influenced by popular images of hairless female beauty. The physician must consider normal racial and ethnic variations in terminal hair distribution and possible causes for hypertrichosis.

Idiopathic Hirsutism

Idiopathic hirsutism (IH) is defined by the maintenance of normal ovulation, despite increased androgen effects on the skin (Lobo, 1986). Regular ovulatory menstrual cycles are reassuring, but never absolute, evidence that serious abnormal causes of hirsutism can be excluded. Women with IH have 5alpha-reductase activity that is greater than that of normal women but similar to that of normal men (Thomas and Oake, 1974; Kutten et al, 1977) (Fig. 15-3) . Although more than 90% of hirsute women have biochemical evidence of hyperandrogenemia (Wild et al, 1983), women with IH tend to have lower androgen production rates (Bardin and Lipsett, 1967). This may explain the absence of ovulatory disturbances in such women. Furthermore, PCOS usually does not develop in women with IH (Dunaif, unpublished observations). Although ultrasonography reveals polycystic ovaries in many women with IH (Adams, 1986), the diagnosis of PCOS cannot be made without some form of anovulation (see later). Recent studies by Legro et al (1998a) have found that hyperandrogenemia with regular menses is an additional familial phenotype in PCOS kindreds. Thus, it may be part of the genetic spectrum of PCOS.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and Ovarian Hyperthecosis

These conditions represent a morphologic spectrum of the same process. In 1935, Stein and Leventhal described a syndrome consisting of bilaterally enlarged sclerocystic and polyfollicular ovaries, menstrual dysfunction, and hirsutism (Stein and Leventhal, 1935). Geist and Gaines (1942) noted the association of clinical virilization with islands of luteinized theca cells in the ovarian stroma; this finding subsequently became known as ovarian stromal hyperthecosis.

There is general agreement in the literature that the diagnosis of PCOS requires the presence of hyperandrogenism (elevated serum androgen levels or definitive clinical evidence of excess androgen effect) and chronic anovulation (fewer than six to nine menses per year) (Zawadski and Dunaif, 1992). It is now recognized that PCOS represents the most common cause of masculinization in women with a prevalence of approximately 5% of premenopausal women (Knochenhauer et al, 1998).

Women with PCOS are chronically anovulatory, but spontaneous ovulation and conception may occasionally occur. Usually, menstrual irregularities persist from the time of menarche so that a regular pattern of menses is never established. Less often, girls can have primary amenorrhea. Hyperandrogenism may be subtle, and cystic acne may be the only sign. Hyperandrogenism may take several years to produce hirsutism in PCOS or hirtutism may be absent, depending on the 5alpha-reductase activity in the skin (McKenna et al, 1983). Acanthosis nigricans is evident on clinical examination of the skin in approximately 50% of obese women with PCOS (Dunaif et al, 1987; Stuart et al, 1986; Dunaif et al, 1991) (Fig. 15-4) . Acromegaloid features, such as acral hypertrophy, are found occasionally in women with PCOS. True virilization is uncommon in PCOS and suggests the presence of an adrenal or ovarian tumor. Clinical findings in women with PCOS are summarized:



















Acanthosis nigricans




Impaired glucose tolerance



True virilization


Acral hypertrophy


Endometrial carcinoma




Non-androgen-secreting ovarian tumors ( e.g., dermoid cysts)

In PCOS, classic ovarian morphology includes a thickened cortex, multiple subcapsular follicular cysts, hyperplasia and luteinization of the theca interna, stromal hyperplasia, and multiple immature follicles suggestive of arrested folliculogenesis (Hughesdon, 1982). Ovary size ranges from normal to substantially enlarged. On ultrasonography, these histologic findings appear as a peripheral array of at least eight small follicles (6 to 10 mm in diameter), and there is an increased amount of dense stroma (Adams criteria) (Adams et al, 1986) (Fig. 15-5) . Although most women with PCOS have the typical polycystic ovarian morphology, this ovarian morphology is not specific to PCOS. Enlarged polycystic ovaries are seen in women with adult-onset 21- hydroxylase deficiency (Hague et al, 1990) and 20% to 25% of normal controls (Polson et al, 1988). The lack of specificity of ovarian morphologic changes for which this disorder was named emphasizes the importance of defining the biochemical features of PCOS and of excluding other diseases before diagnosis.

The primary androgen-secreting cells of the ovary are thecal and stromal cells, which respond to stimulation by LH (Erickson et al, 1985). Follicles contain granulosa cells that, under normal circumstances, aromatize locally produced androgens to estrogens (primarily E2). The capacity of granulosa cells to aromatize androgens is a function of their maturity, and this is under direct follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) control (Erickson et al, 1985).

There is considerable overlap in the reported clinical and biochemical features of hyperthecosis and PCOS (Geist and Gaines, 1942; Dunaif et al, 1985). Hyperthecosis has been defined as luteinized cells that are clustered or diffusely scattered away from the follicles in the stroma and that encroach on the hilar region. However, when ovarian sections are examined carefully by histologic analysis, islands of luteinized theca cells (stromal hyperthecosis) can be detected in most ovaries of women with PCOS (Hughesdon, 1982). More extensive stromal hyperthecosis often correlates with more severe androgen excess, producing true virilization. However, stromal hyperthecosis also can be associated with estrogen production alone and may be a cause of postmenopausal vaginal bleeding (Nagamani et al, 1988). Stromal hyperthecosis is more extensive in women with PCOS if there is substantial insulin resistance, and it has been suggested that insulin directly stimulates theca cell growth (Dunaif et al, 1985; Nagamani et al, 1988). Indeed, the extent of theca cell hyperplasia has been shown to be positively related to plasma insulin levels (Nagamani et al, 1988).

Biochemical Features.

Characteristic biochemical abnormalities of PCOS include elevated serum androgen levels, decreased SHBG levels, disordered gonadotropin release with increased LH relative to FSH secretion, and acyclic (tonic) estrogen levels in the midfollicular range of the normal menstrual cycle associated with chronic anovulation. Hyperinsulinemia secondary to insulin resistance appears to be a unique feature of PCOS and not of hyperandrogenic states in general (Dunaif et al, 1987). Biochemical abnormalities may wax and wane, and attempts to categorize this disorder by biochemical profiles are problematic.

Elevated Androgens.

Plasma levels of testosterone, biologically available testosterone (non-SHBG-bound and free), androstenedione, DHEAS, DHEA, and DHT can be elevated. Typically, testosterone, non-SHBG-bound testosterone, and androstenedione levels are mildly to moderately elevated compared with nonhirsute regularly ovulating women. If serum testosterone levels are consistently greater than 150 to 200 ng/dL when measured in an extraction and chromatography assay system or if DHEAS levels are greater than 700 mug/dL (Meldrum and Abraham, 1979; Moltz et al, 1984; Friedman et al, 1985; Derksen et al, 1994), an androgen-secreting neoplasm must be excluded. Peripheral androgen elevations fluctuate with pulsatile adrenal secretion and ovarian menstrual cyclicity so that a single determination may miss androgen excess. Occasionally repeated sampling or pooling of samples may be necessary to detect androgen excess.

By combining the results of a number of studies, it can be seen that there is increased ovarian androgen production in most women with PCOS. Under normal circumstances, more than 90% of serum DHEAS is secreted by the adrenals (Longcope, 1986); thus, its elevation in women with PCOS indicates that there is an adrenal contribution to androgen excess. However, because the adrenals also contribute substantially to circulating testosterone and androstenedione levels, both by direct secretion and by peripheral conversion of prohormones, adrenal hyperan- drogenism may occur in the absence of elevated DHEAS levels. Many women with PCOS have an adrenal component to their androgen excess (Ehrmann et al, 1995).

Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin.

Serum levels of SHBG are modestly decreased in nonobese women with PCOS and substantially decreased in obese women with PCOS. This is secondary, in part, to the direct action of androgens to decrease hepatic production of SHBG (Andersen, 1974; Winneker et al, 1989). Obesity is also associated with low SHBG levels, which may be attributed to an independent effect of insulin to decrease hepatic SHBG synthesis directly (Plymate et al, 1988; Nestler et al, 1991).


Serum levels of total estrogens are elevated above the range seen in normally menstruating women. Estradiol levels are similar to those seen in the midfollicular phase of the normal menstrual cycle, whereas E1 levels are typically elevated compared with those in normal women (Rebar et al, 1976; Baird et al, 1977). Therefore, on clinical examination, women with PCOS are well estrogenized ( e.g., they have moist vaginal mucosa with rugae, and they experience vaginal bleeding after progestin challenge). Because SHBG levels are low, non-SHBG-bound, biologically available E2 levels are increased compared with those in normally ovulating women in the midfollicular phase of the menstrual cycle (Lobo et al, 1981). This may be important in the pathogenesis of the gonadotropin secretory abnormalities of PCOS (Lobo et al, 1981).

Estrogen secretion in PCOS is derived from the ovary and the extragonadal aromatization of androgens (par- ticularly androstenedione to E1). Estrogen production in PCOS is constant and is not cyclic as it is in the normal menstrual cycle. This results in a chronic, unopposed ( i.e., no progesterone) effect on the endometrium that can result in endometrial hyperplasia, dysfunctional uterine bleeding, and endometrial neoplasia if left untreated (Jackson and Docherty, 1957).


Serum LH levels are increased in most women with PCOS as a function of increased amplitude and increased frequency of pulsatile LH secretion (Waldstreicher et al, 1985; Taylor et al, 1997). Serum FSH levels and pulse frequency are generally in the normal midfollicular range, or they may be slightly low. An increased frequency of LH pulses indicates an increased frequency of hypothalamic gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) secretion, and, therefore, a hypothalamic site of the abnormality. The increased amplitude of LH pulses may have several causes. First, women with PCOS secrete more LH in response to the same dosage of GnRH (Rebar et al, 1976) or GnRH agonists (Barnes et al, 1989), indicating increased pituitary sensitivity. Second, an increased GnRH pulse frequency has been shown to increase the LH-FSH ratio experimentally, indicating a direct effect of frequency (Spratt et al, 1987). Third, there does not appear to be an increase in the amount of GnRH secreted per pulse because LH is similarly suppressed by small dosages of a GnRH-antagonist in women with PCOS and in normal controls (Hayes et al, 1998). Finally, there does not appear to be an excess secretion of inhibin from PCOS ovaries (Lambert-Messelian et al, 1994).

Insulin Resistance.

Insulin resistance is a unique feature of PCOS and not of hyperandrogenic states in general (Dunaif et al, 1987; Dunaif et al, 1989; Robinson et al, 1993). Approximately 40% of women with PCOS have impaired glucose tolerance (31%) or frank diabetes mellitus (7.5%) (Legro et al, 1999). Although obesity and age increase this risk, glucose intolerance, including type 2 diabetes, can be seen in adolescent and nonobese PCOS women (Legro et al, 1999). PCOS is an important risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes mellitus in women. It is estimated that approximately 10% of diabetes in premenopausal women is PCOS related (Dunaif, 1997).

Pathophysiology of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.

There are four distinct loci of disturbed endocrine functioning in women with PCOS: ovaries, adrenal gland, hypothalamic-pituitary axis, and peripheral insulin-responsive tissues.

Ovarian Function.

Theca cells isolated from polycystic ovaries secrete markedly increased amounts of androstenedione and 17-OH progesterone basally and in response to LH (Gilling-Smith et al, 1994). Despite extensive investigation, however, no consistent specific enzymatic defect in steroidogenesis has been found in the majority of ovaries of women with PCOS. A number of steroidogenic pathways are upregulated, consistent with a diffuse hyperresponsiveness rather than a specific enzyme defect (Ehrmann et al, 1995). Many women with PCOS have exaggerated ovarian 17-OH progesterone secretion, suggesting dysregulation of the cytochrome enzyme P450c17 that controls 17 hydroxylation of pregnenolone and progesterone and 17,20 lyase activity to convert 17-OH pregnenolone to DHEA (Ehrmann et al, 1995). This is the rate-limiting enzyme for androgen biosynthesis. No mutations have been found in this enzyme in women with PCOS (Franks et al, 1997; Legro et al, 1998b).

Granulosa cells from polycystic ovaries secrete smaller amounts of estrogen than granulosa cells from normal ovaries. However, the addition of FSH to PCOS granulosa cells results in normal estrogen secretion (Erickson et al, 1985; Mason et al, 1994). This suggests that ovarian responsiveness is normal and that the decreased granulosa cell estrogen production characteristic of PCOS is a functional abnormality secondary to inadequate FSH stimulation.

Adrenal Function.

The adrenal glands can contribute to hyperandrogenism in PCOS as indicated by selective venous catheterization studies, elevations of serum DHEAS levels, and studies in which ovarian or adrenal steroid production has been suppressed. Indeed, the nonclassical, late-onset form of adrenal 21-hydroxylase deficiency has clinical, biochemical, and ovarian morphological features indistinguishable from PCOS (Lobo and Goebelsmann, 1980). In the absence of these definable adrenal enzyme defects, women with PCOS often have increased responses to exogenous ACTH of DHEA, 17-OH progesterone, 17- hydroxypregnenolone, and androstenedione (Luckey et al, 1986; Ehrmann et al, 1995). However, these responses do not conform to a pattern for a single adrenal enzyme defect and suggest, instead, generalized adrenal hyperresponsiveness. It is possible that this represents a primary abnormality. Alternatively, insulin has been shown to increase adrenal responsiveness to ACTH (Moghetti et al, 1996).

Function of the Hypothalamic-Pituitary Axis.

Several hypotheses have been proposed to explain the neuroendocrine defect of PCOS, including a primary hypothalamic defect, abnormal sex steroid feedback, and abnormal sensitivity to feedback. Spontaneous ovulation (Blankstein et al, 1987; Taylor et al, 1997) or progestin exposure (Christman et al, 1991; Pastor et al, 1998; Daniels and Berga, 1997) can reduce exaggerated LH secretion in women with PCOS but may not normalize it, suggesting that an underlying hypothalmic defect persists regardless of normal feedback. The antiestrogen clomiphene citrate induces a similar rise, and exogenous estrogen produces a similar fall of LH and FSH release in PCOS and in normal ovulatory women in the midfollicular phase of the menstrual cycle, suggesting that estrogen-negative feedback is intact (Rebar et al, 1976). However, estrogen administration provokes a rise (positive feedback) in LH and FSH levels in women with PCOS 24 hours earlier than it does in normal women in the midfollicular phase. In women with PCOS, there is also increased LH release during GnRH administration than there is in normal women in the midfollicular phase (Rebar et al, 1976). These findings suggest that women with PCOS are "estrogen primed" because both early positive feedback and increased pituitary sensitivity to GnRH can be produced in normal women by exogenous estrogen administration.

Elevated LH and LH-FSH ratios have been described in women with hyperandrogenism of other causes, such as androgen-secreting ovarian neoplasms (Dunaif et al, 1984b) or nonclassical congenital adrenal hyperplasia (Lobo and Goebelsmann, 1980). Androgens are able to distort gonadotropin release by their aromatization to estrogens (Dunaif, 1986). Although androgen levels in the normal male range suppress gonadotropin release in normal women (Serafini et al, 1986), androgen levels in the PCOS range do not directly alter gonadotropin release in women with PCOS or in normal women (Dunaif, 1986). Conversely, the administration of an aromatase inhibitor to women with PCOS results in increases in gonadotropin release characteristic of an antiestrogenic effect (Dunaif, et al, 1984a). However, E1 administration does not alter LH release in women with PCOS (Chang et al, 1982). This suggests that E2 is the major gonadal steroid contributing to the distortion of gonadotropin release in PCOS.

There is growing evidence that gonadotropin secretion in PCOS is also modulated by some factor related to body weight (Taylor et al, 1997; Arroyo et al, 1997). Obese patients tend to have lower mean LH levels, LH-FSH ratios, and LH pulse amplitudes, but they maintain rapid LH pulse frequencies. The inverse correlation of LH secretion with body mass index is similar with percentage body fat and fasting serum leptin levels and is slightly less with fasting insulin levels.

Biochemical-Pathology Correlation.

The ovarian pathology findings are consistent with the abnormal hormonal milieu. It is believed that the hyperplastic thecal and stromal tissues are secondary to chronic stimulation by excess LH. It has been suggested by Givens et al (1975) that the gonadotropin-responsive tumors that occasionally coexist with PCOS may be the end result of this stimulation, as are the androgen-secreting luteomas that may occur during pregnancy (see later). Hyperinsulinemia is associated with stromal hyperthecosis in PCOS (Dunaif et al, 1985). Exogenous androgen administration may also result in polycystic ovarian changes (Futterweit and Deligdisch, 1985).

Hypotheses for the Cause of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.

It has been demonstrated that disordered gonadotropin secretion is usually necessary to perpetuate hyperandrogenism in PCOS (Chang et al, 1983) and that either ovarian or adrenal androgen excess can cause gonadotropin release identical to that of PCOS (Lobo and Goebelsmann, 1980; Dunaif et al, 1984b). Thus, a primary central abnormality leading to disrupted gonadotropin secretion or a primary ovarian or adrenal defect leading to hyperandrogenism could be postulated to cause PCOS as follows. First, it has been suggested that a vicious circle is initiated by adrenal androgen excess because of exaggerated adrenarche (Yen, 1980). This causes distorted gonadotropin release with increased LH relative to FSH secretion, resulting in arrested folliculogenesis and LH-dependent ovarian androgen production. Excess androgens are then aromatized peripherally into estrogens. Abnormal gonadal steroid production in turn perpetuates the disordered gonadotropin release. However, gonadotropin secretory abnormalities and hyperandrogenism resume promptly in women with PCOS after medical oophorectomy with long-acting GnRH analogues (Chang et al, 1983). This suggests that there is a primary persistent abnormality in the control of GnRH release or in steroidogenesis in PCOS.

Second, it has been suggested that there is a primary central nervous system alteration that results in PCOS. Indeed, adolescent girls with PCOS have disordered diurnal secretory patterns of LH, suggesting that a neuroendocrine abnormality may be involved (Zumoff et al, 1983). A number of potential neuroendocrine changes have been suggested in PCOS, including decreases in central dopaminergic tone, but these may be secondary to tonic estrogen feedback rather than primary lesions.

Third, there has been renewed interest in a primary ovarian or adrenal enzymatic defect leading to impaired folliculogenesis or increased androgen production. Primary ovarian defects that have been reported in PCOS include abnormal 11beta-hydroxylase, 3beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase, 17-ketosteroid reductase, 17beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase, and 17alpha-hydroxylase/17-20 lyase activities (Ehrmann et al, 1995). To date, however, there is no strong evidence for primary genetic defects in these ovarian steroidogenic enzymes in PCOS because ovaries appear to function normally in response to FSH (Erickson et al, 1985; Franks, 1995).

Fourth, there has been growing speculation that insulin or insulin-like growth factors (IGFs) play a major role in the pathogenesis of PCOS. Acute infusion of supraphysiologic amounts of insulin can directly alter gonadal steroid secretion in women with PCOS (Dunaif and Graf, 1989). Moreover, lowering insulin levels by weight loss (Kiddy et al, 1992) or the use of pharmacologic agents (Nestler et al, 1989; Dunaif et al, 1996; Nestler et al, 1998) results in decreased circulating androgen levels and the resumption of ovulation.

In summary, PCOS is characterized by masculinization and is differentiated from IH by the presence of oligoovulation or anovulation. Only by excluding other causes (Zawodski and Dunaif, 1992) can a diagnosis of PCOS be confirmed. Ultrasonographic documentation of polycystic ovaries supports the diagnosis, but it is not definitive for the disorder.

Metabolic Consequences of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.

The association of PCOS with obesity (Evans et al, 1983), insulin resistance, and glucose intolerance raises the concern that affected women are at increased risk for coronary artery disease and other atherosclerotic conditions. Several large epidemiologic studies have linked hyperinsulinemia with an increased risk for cardiovascular events. However, none of these studies included women, and no long-term prospective studies of cardiovascular risk in women with PCOS have been conducted to address the issue.

Because it takes a long time to complete prospective cardiac event outcome studies, alternative approaches to assess cardiac risk in patients with PCOS have been conducted, including assessment of current cardiovascular risk factors such as hypertension and hyperlipidemia and retrospective studies of all women with symptoms of cardiovascular disease. Some, but not all, studies of fasting lipid levels in women with PCOS, defined by variable criteria, suggest that high-density lipoprotein levels may be reduced and triglyceride levels increased in hyperandrogenic women (Wild, 1995; Talbott et al, 1995). Some of the variability may be explained by the small numbers of patients in some studies and by the lack of weight- and age-matched controls in other studies. Our own data (Graf et al, 1990) suggest that most of the differences in lipid levels between women with PCOS and control subjects can be explained by the differences in body mass index. It remains unclear whether PCOS bestows an increased risk over what would be expected for the degree of insulin resistance and increased prevalence of impaired glucose tolerance and type 2 diabetes. Indeed, 15% of older women with a history consistent with PCOS have diabetes mellitus (Dahlgren et al, 1992b).

Hypertension has also been associated with hyperinsulinemia. However, blood pressure is clearly not increased in young patients with PCOS compared to weight- and body fat-matched controls, even though the patients with PCOS in one study were clearly insulin resistant and hyperinsulinemic (Zimmerman et al, 1992). These results raise the possibility that insulin resistance in women with PCOS, or insulin resistance in women in general, plays a different role in cardiovascular risk than it does in men. However, older women with a history of wedge resection for PCOS may have a prevalence for hypertension that is as high as 39% (Dahlgren et al, 1992b).

More recent studies have addressed other surrogate risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including the production of plasminogen activator-I (PAI-1), which is enhanced by hyperinsulinemia and is associated with a decreased fibrinolytic response to thrombosis. PAI-1 concentration and activity are elevated in women with PCOS (Andersen et al, 1995). Ehrmann et al (1997b) demonstrated reductions in PAI-1 when insulin levels were reduced by troglitazone in patients with PCOS.

To date, two retrospective studies have been reported of women undergoing cardiac catheterization for the evaluation of chest pain. Both are weakened by their small sample size, mixture of premenopausal and postmenopausal subjects, and retrospective assessment of previous hirsutism and menstrual dysfunction. However, both suggest that women who had documented coronary artery disease at the time of catheterization were more likely to have a history consistent with hyperandrogenism. In the first study, Wild et al (1990) reported that there was a significant increase in hirsutism in women with catheterization evidence of coronary artery disease. In the second study, Birdsall et al (1997) found an increase in documented coronary artery disease in women with polycystic ovarian morphology.

Thus, women with PCOS clearly have a proclivity for insulin resistance that may contribute to other risk factors for coronary artery disease and to more coronary atherosclerosis. However, data confirming this hypothesis are unavailable. Current recommendations, given these data, are to consider all cardiovascular risk factors in women with PCOS and to screen vigilantly and treat for obesity, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and type 2 diabetes mellitus.

Androgen-Secreting Ovarian Tumors

A few ovarian tumors (less than 1%) are capable of producing masculinization by the direct secretion of androgens. These tumors are classified as sex-cord stromal tumors, steroid or lipoid cell tumors, gonadoblastomas, and tumors with functioning stroma. The category of sex-cord stromal tumors contains derivatives of the sex cords (granulosa or Sertoli cells) or stroma singly or in any combination and in various degrees of differentiation. Lipoid cell tumor refers to the morphologic features of the steroid-producing cells that make them up, such as luteinized thecoma, Leydig, and adrenal-cortical-like cells. They can be divided into three categories according their cells of origin, known or unknown. Gonadoblastomas are complex tumors composed of sex-cord, stromal, and germ-cell elements. They almost invariably arise in association with gonadal dysgenesis when a Y chromosome-containing cell line is present and produces masculinization from the excessive production of androgens by the Leydig cell elements.

Other Ovarian Tumor Hyperandrogenic Conditions.

Several tumors stimulate surrounding stroma into steroid-secreting tissue by human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG)- independent mechanisms. Despite a report of virilizing serous cystadenoma and Brenner tumor without histologic evidence of stromal hyperplasia or luteinization, it is debatable whether these types of ovarian cancer have the necessary steroidogenic enzymes for androgen secretion. Rather, it is generally accepted that neighboring stromata is mechanically stimulated to secrete androgens, as with an expanding follicle, or is trophically stimulated by paracrine or endocrine factors.


During pregnancy, certain benign ovarian lesions, most commonly luteomas and hyperreactio luteinalis, are capable of androgen hypersecretion (Shortle et al, 1987). These lesions are derived from luteinized stromal cells, present before pregnancy, that respond unusually to placental gonadotropin secretion. Maternal virilization occurs in 10% to 50% of luteomas and in 25% of hyperreactio luteinalis. Fetal masculinization is rare, however, because of the large placental capacity to aromatize androgens into estrogens.


Postmenopausal women may show masculinization that results from the lowered free estrogen to free androgen ratio caused by declining estrogen secretion in the aged ovary. Androgen secretion may continue at a disproportionately high rate because of stromal stimulation by elevated postmenopausal gonadotropins. Many elderly women experience increased growth of terminal hair on the upper lip and chin, whereas pubic, axillary, and scalp hair are partially lost.

Adrenal Masculinizing Conditions

The principal disorders of the adrenal gland that can cause masculinization in women are congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), Cushing syndrome with significant hyperandrogenism, and testosterone-producing or androgen precursor-producing adrenal tumors. Usually, adrenal hyperandrogenemia is suspected when elevated serum DHEAS levels are found. An isolated elevation in serum testosterone level, however, does not exclude an adrenal source. CAH and adrenal virilizing tumors must be differentiated from premature adrenarche in girls in whom the normal rise in adrenal androgen secretion occurs before 7 years of age. In premature adrenarche, there may be mild acceleration in height and bone age accompanied by precocious pubic hair development, but there is no virilization as there is with CAH and adrenal tumors.

Nonclassical Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia.

Hyperandrogenism resulting from inherited defects in adrenal steroid biosynthesis (predominantly 21-hydroxylase deficiency) can present during adolescence or adulthood (late-onset, attenuated, or nonclassical CAH [NCCAH]) (Fig. 15-6) . In these disorders, an enzymatic defect integral to the formation of cortisol causes a slight compensatory increase in pituitary ACTH production and an increased conversion of cortisol precursors to androgens. Women with late-onset CAH may have a history of prepubertal hirsutism but rarely prepubertal virilization.

The most common form of CAH is nonclassical 21- hydroxylase deficiency, which is caused by mutations in the P450c21 gene on chromosome 6 and is inherited as an autosomal recessive trait (New and Speiser, 1986). The nonclassical form of 21-hydroxylase deficiency is not detected until puberty and is not associated with salt wasting, severe virilization, or adrenal insufficiency. This disorder is easily diagnosed by 17-hydroxyprogesterone responses after ACTH administration (see Fig. 15-6) . Unstimulated early morning 17-hydroxyprogesterone levels may also be used for diagnosis (Azziz and Zacur, 1989). The incidence of NCCAH among hirsute women ranges from 1% to 5% depending on the ethnic background, with an overall frequency of 0.3% in the general white population and approximately 3% in Jews of European origin (New and Speiser, 1986).

The clinical picture for late-onset 3beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase deficiency is indistinguishable from that for PCOS--peripubertal hirsutism and menstrual irregularity (Pang et al, 1985; Zerah et al, 1994). Biochemically, baseline Delta5 steroids (DHEAS and DHEA) are more elevated than Delta4 steroids (androstenedione and testosterone), and the ACTH-stimulated 17alpha-hydroxypregnenolone-17alpha- hydroxyprogesterone ratio is elevated to a greater degree than the DHEA-androstenedione ratio. Although this steroid pattern has been reported in as many as 15% of hirsute women based on ACTH stimulation testing (Pang et al, 1985), 3beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase gene cloning has demonstrated that mutations in this gene are exceedingly rare (Zerah et al, 1994). Thus, most elevations of Delta5 steroids appear to be caused by functional androgen production defects rather than by enzyme gene mutations. A late-onset form of 11beta-hydroxylase deficiency has been reported, though a consistent biochemical response has not been observed. Not all patients have increased 11-deoxycortisol-cortisol ratios.

Cushing Syndrome.

Cushing syndrome is caused by the excess, poorly modulated secretion of cortisol due to an adrenal cortisol-producing tumor, an ACTH-secreting pituitary tumor (Cushing disease), an ectopic tumor producing ACTH, or a tumor producing corticotropin-releasing hormone. The effects of chronic hypercortisolism include central obesity, hypokalemic alkalosis, hypertension, impaired glucose tolerance, muscle wasting, thinning of the stratum corneum of the skin, and osteoporosis. In addition, many tumors also secrete androgen, which can produce hirsutism, acne, seborrhea, and true virilization. Some nonandrogen-sensitive hair growth (facial lanugo hair) may occur because of the effect of excess glucocorticoids. It is estimated that approximately 75% of women with Cushing disease have hirsutism. Hypercortisolism and hyperandrogenism may impact the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis, producing ovulatory disturbances and menstrual irregularity. When significant virilization occurs in Cushing syndrome, the cause is almost always adrenal carcinoma. Adrenal carcinoma are often palpable because the tissue is steroidogenically inefficient and does not produce sufficient hormones for clinical symptoms until there is considerable tumor mass.

Because the androgens DHEA and androstenedione are derived from 17-hydroxypregnenolone by the action of the P450c17 and 3betaHSD genes, any stimulation of low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol uptake and cholesterol side-chain cleavage by ACTH produces a state of cortisol and androgen hypersecretion (Ehrmann et al, 1995). Tumors, on the other hand, are independent of ACTH stimulation and can have varying complements of steroid biosynthetic enzymes. Usually the benign adrenal adenoma that produces hypercortisolism is well differentiated and does not secrete increased androgens. Thus, DHEAS levels are typically suppressed if there are adrenocortical adenomas because of the suppression of ACTH by the elevated plasma cortisol levels. DHEAS levels may be useful in differentiating adrenocortical adenomas from other causes of Cushing syndrome (Yamaji and Ibayashi, 1969). Adrenal carcinomas often produce excess androgens and estrogens, in addition to excess cortisol, but may not be associated with elevated DHEAS levels. Because androstenedione and DHEA are really androgen prehormones, masculinizing and possible virilizing signs of Cushing syndrome result from peripheral conversion to testosterone. Occasionally, a pure testosterone-producing tumor occurs without hypercortisolism or elevated DHEAS levels (see later).

Other Androgen-Secreting Adrenal Tumors.

Androgen-secreting adrenal tumors with normal serum cortisol levels can be associated with hypertension mediated by excessive 11-deoxycorticosterone secretion. Pure testosterone-secreting tumors are rare. Approximately 20 cases have been described, usually in postmenopausal women (Gabrilove et al, 1981). Differentiating adrenal testosterone-secreting tumors from ovarian testosterone-secreting tumors is challenging. Such neoplasms may contain LH receptors; hence, hCG may stimulate testosterone secretion in both.

Because of the variable biochemical and clinical picture, 45% of 22 patients with testosterone-secreting adrenal tumors reported between 1975 and 1987 underwent ovarian exploration before the correct diagnosis was made (Mattox and Phelan, 1987). This difficulty underscores the need for initial high-resolution computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to exclude an adrenal neoplasm whenever tumoral hyperandrogenemia is suspected because of an elevated serum testosterone level. Usually, pure testosterone-secreting adrenal tumors are benign, whereas adrenal masculinizing tumors whose major androgenic steroid secretory product is DHEA often are malignant.


Prolactin excess has been associated with hyperandrogenism (often hirsutism) in a variety of circumstances. Prolactin may augment adrenal androgen secretion by the inhibition of 3beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase activity or, less often, through selective action on the sulfation of DHEA in adrenal or extra-adrenal sites (Carter et al, 1977). However, prolactin inhibits FSH-induced ovarian aromatase, leading to intraovarian hyperandrogenemia. In hyperprolactinemic women (prolactin range, 36 to 991 ng/mL) studied by Glickman et al (1982), 40% had androgenic abnormalities of which the most common was elevated free testosterone levels. The next in frequency was depressed SHBG levels and then elevated DHEAS levels.

Modestly increased prolactin levels have been reported in as many as 40% of women with PCOS in the absence of pituitary neoplasms. However, most investigators find substantially fewer women with hyperprolactinemia and, in fact, exclude patients with elevated prolactin levels from the diagnosis of PCOS. It has been suggested that hyperprolactinemia in PCOS is related to decreased central dopaminergic tone (Paradisi et al, 1988), which, in turn, may reflect the tonic estrogenic state.


There are many effects of thyroid disease on adrenocortical and reproductive function. Hypothyroidism is associated with an increased metabolic production rate of testosterone, diversion of testosterone metabolism from androsterone to etiocholanolone, and reduced binding activity and hepatic production of SHBG (Gordon et al, 1969). Hypothyroidism also decreases libido and causes anovulation, infertility, alopecia, and excessive and irregular menstrual bleeding. Despite derangements in androgen metabolism in women with hypothyroidism, masculinization is not significant. Conversely, masculinization may be present in juvenile hypothyroidism. A predominant feature is reversible generalized muscular hypertrophy. Furthermore, juvenile hypothyroidism is sometimes associated with precocious puberty.

Disorders of Sexual Differentiation

Hyperandrogenic symptoms, either prepubertal or postpubertal, may occur in various types of gonadal dysgenesis, among them classic Turner syndrome (streak gonads and a Turner phenotype); pure gonadal dysgenesis (aplastic or absent gonads without the recognizable Turner syndrome phenotype); true hermaphroditism (ovarian and testicular tissue); and hermaphroditism with atypical or mixed gonadal dysgenesis (streak gonad and testis). Thus, it is mandatory to exclude a Y-cell line containing gonadoblastoma in any patient with gonadal dysgenesis who has hyperandrog- enism. This can be accomplished only by laparotomy and by removal of the streak gonad because the Y-cell line may occur only there and may not be detectable by peripheral lymphocyte or skin fibroblast chromosomal analysis.

Anorexia Nervosa and Starvation

In general, weight loss is not associated with hyperandrogenism. In anorexia nervosa, however, there is an increase in lanugo hair and amenorrhea and a reduction in breast size.

Insulin Resistance

Hyperandrogenism with true virilization occurs in a number of the rare syndromes of extreme insulin resistance, such as type A insulin resistance, leprechaunism, and partial or complete lipoatrophy syndrome (Barbieri et al, 1986; Dunaif, 1997). In these conditions, insulin levels are strikingly elevated and may increase ovarian androgen production directly or by binding to the IGF-1 receptor. Moderate insulin resistance is also a feature of PCOS and can occur in association with androgen-secreting neoplasms. Thus, the presence of insulin resistance does not aid in the differential diagnosis of hyperandrogenism.


Obesity may be both a manifestation of the hyperandrogenic state and a contributor to it. Increased adiposity has been associated with decreased hepatic SHBG synthesis and increased androgen bioavailability (Anderson, 1974). In addition, adipose cell aromatase converts androgens to estrogens, and chronically high levels of estrogen promote adipocyte replication in vitro. This supports the clinical observations of increased menstrual irregularities and of hirsutism in obese women that may be corrected with weight reduction (Rogers and Mitchell, 1952; Glass et al, 1978). However, not every obese woman has hyperandrog- enism or ovulatory disturbances (Dunaif et al, 1988). Weight reduction is an effective therapeutic modality for PCOS, but it is not possible to predict which obese women will experience improved menstrual function with weight reduction (Kiddy et al, 1992).

Iatrogenic or Factitious Masculinization

Treatment with various drugs may produce masculinizing features (Box 15-4) . Unfortunately, most virilizing side effects are irreversible, even when steroid use is discontinued. In addition to the increasing use of illicit anabolic steroids among women to enhance athletic performance, androgens may be legitimately prescribed for the treatment of menopausal signs and symptoms, breast cancer, aplastic anemia, endometriosis, cystic mastitis, and angioneurotic edema (Wilson, 1988). Hirsutism and acne are side effects of the common progestational oral contraceptive agents that contain levonorgestrel and norgestrel ( e.g., Triphasil and Lo-Ovral, respectively). Hirsutism, acne, and alopecia occasionally result from synthetic oral, intravenous, or inhaled glucocorticoids. Fetal virilization can develop if pregnant women ingest progestational or androgenic steroids.


Whom to Evaluate

Any woman with hyperandrogenic symptoms should undergo initial evaluation for potentially abnormal causes of increased androgen production (see Box 15-2) . In addition, hyperandrogenism should be considered in women with irregular menses, amenorrhea, or infertility. The basic evaluation includes a complete history and physical examination to rule out a serious underlying cause (Fig. 15-7) .

Medical History

Important features of the history include age, rapidity of onset of masculinizing symptoms, presence of menstrual dysfunction, and family history including ethnic origin. Hirsutism that is insidious and coincides with puberty suggests a nontumoral cause ( e.g., PCOS or NCCAH), whereas rapidly progressive hirsutism with onset after puberty and significant virilizing symptoms, such as increased muscularity and voice deepening, suggests neoplasia. True virilization indicates a severe hyperandrogenic state, whereas the preservation of menstrual cyclicity suggests a more attenuated state. It is also important to determine age at menarche, menstrual and growth histories, fertility (spontaneous or induced), and libido. If these are normal and hirsutism is present, then IH is likely. If the patient is pregnant, a pregnancy luteoma should be suspected. Any history of endocrinopathy or metabolic disease is particularly important. Drug use, especially oral contraceptive pills and anabolic steroids, should be recorded. Surreptitious anabolic steroid use should be suspected in body builders and competitive athletes.



Synthetic glucocorticoids


Adrenocorticotropic hormone




Anabolic steroids


Levonorgestrel-containing oral contraceptive pills


Maternal use of synthetic progestational agents (fetal virilization)

Physical Examination

Hypertension, bruising, mood changes, and proximal muscle weakness should increase the index of suspicion for Cushing syndrome. Voice pitch should be noted also because a deep voice is suggestive of more severe hyperandrogenism. A masculine, feminine, Cushingoid, or Turner body habitus should be recorded. For example, if a patient has Turner syndrome, hirsutism suggests the presence of a Y-cell line gonadoblastoma. Breasts should be examined for atrophy or galactorrhea. The pelvis and abdomen should be palpated for ovarian or adrenal masses. Skin should be examined for dryness (hypothyroidism), hirsutism, striae, acne or seborrhea/oiliness, alopecia, acanthosis nigricans (Fig. 15-4) , or hyperpigmentation (excessive ACTH secretion). Acanthosis nigricans is a cutaneous marker for insulin resistance (Dunaif et al, 1990). Acral hypertrophy can be found in the type A syndrome of insulin resistance, acromegaly, and, occasionally, in PCOS.

External genitalia must be examined carefully for clitoral size, labial development, distribution of pubic hair, and genitourinary malformation. Bimanual examination of the uterus and adnexa is particularly important to find pelvic neoplasms and to disclose genital developmental abnormalities in patients with primary amenorrhea.

Various indices may be used to quantify hirsutism. According to the Ferriman and Gallwey (1961) scoring system, five gradings based on hair density and area are assigned for 11 anatomic regions, and a score is computed from the sum of the gradings. This semiquantitative method is suitable for the initial evaluation, but it is insensitive to changes after treatment because of the limits of visual inspection. It does not assign adequate weight to facial hirsutism because the scores reflect hair growth over the upper lip and chin but not on sideburns and cheeks. Finally, the Ferriman-Gallwey score does not account for hair removal. Precise quantitation of hirsutism is generally necessary only in a research study.



Total testosterone level


Biologically available testosterone level


DHEAS level


7 to 9 AM 17-OH progesterone level


Prolactin level


± FSH level


DHEAS, dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate; 17-OH, 17-hydroxyprogesterone; FSH, follicle stimulating hormone.

Initial Laboratory Studies

The recommended diagnostic evaluation is summarized. In more than 80% of women with suspected hyperandrogenism, levels of the total or free testosterone or DHEAS are evaluated on a single random determination (Wild et al, 1983). Obtaining other androgen levels, such as androstenedione or 3-alpha-androstanediol glucuronide, does not improve diagnostic accuracy. If hyperandrogenism is suspected, measuring circulating androgen levels is important to confirm the diagnosis and to rule ou

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Interesting article GO.

Hormones in both male and females do affect the amount of acne that you have. In the males if they have an unbalanced hormone levels then their acne will get worst. Hormones produce oils in your skin. But in females, hormones affect them also but not as severe as the males. The females have the "Diane" pills to help them while the males suffer from acne unless they take accutane or some kind of hormone balance.

I once asked one of my clients, who is also a doctor and he said the only way the males can stop acne is to be castrated. YIKES!!! NO WAY dude! Thats like taking my hormones away and is same as taking my manhood away.

is that what he really said?

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here's another article discussing acne in women and the relation to their hormones. the first part simply talks about how hormones can contribute to the formation of acne, and the second half discusses how oral birth control may be an effective treatment for some, and what makes some birth control pills better than others. very informative, and it actually pushed me over the edge to make an appt with a gyno for rx birth control.

Dermadoctor- Acne and Hormones [Edited link out]


An interesting multicenter study (JAAD 2001;45:957-60) showed that almost half of all women do experience a premenstrual flare of acne. But it's women ages 33 and up who are most often affected.

A bevy of hormones can cause acne to form. Hormones responsible for acne include testosterone (an androgen), anabolic steroids, gonadotropins, corticosteroids and ACTH. Stress increases circulating glucocorticosteroids and should be factored into the hormone driven flare-up.

All women produce androgens and these hormones are there for a reason. It is when androgens outweigh estrogen either through total amounts or genetic hypersensitivity to the mere presence of androgen that a problem may arise.

What exactly do androgens do? Androgens activate sebaceous glands to make sebum, that oil on the skin that for some produces a healthy glow, for others, creates a chronic oil slick. Androgens begin to form at puberty.

Progesterone is made in the adrenal glands. Progesterone has qualities of both androgens and estrogen. In the best scenario, natural progesterone competes with androgens, particularly when estrogen levels drop at ovulation, helping prevent androgens from exerting their effects upon the skin.

Women can either make too much testosterone (such as in polycystic ovary syndrome/PCOS); make too little estrogen to mask the testosterone or have a genetic predilection towards highly sensitive skin and hair follicle cells to “normal"? levels of androgens. By far the most common cause of androgenic acne is this natural ultra sensitivity to androgens.

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I tried the product called Buffskin cause I was at my wits end with my body blemishes, I had tried light scrubs, harsh scrubs, was told flax seed oil, my doctor looked at hormones... it's actually worked! Within a week bumps were mostly gone along with redness. Highly recommend [censored] I usually shy away from these comment boards but I feel like I need to let people know cause I was looking for so long for a solution 

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