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Adrenal virilism is the abnormal development of masculine characteristics in women, due to the overproduction of male hormones (androgens) in the adrenal glands.
Adrenal virilism is often caused by enlargement of the androgen-producing regions of the adrenal gland, sometimes due to the presence of a tumour in the gland.
In other cases, virilism can occur when a cancer along the exterior of the gland produces androgens.
Sometimes, an abnormality in an adrenal enzyme may be responsible.
Athletes using large amounts of androgens to promote muscle development may also develop virilism.
Symptoms and diagnosis
Typical symptoms of adrenal virilism include:
· Growth of excessive facial or bodily hair (hirutism);
· Baldness or hair thinning;
· Increased muscle strength;
· Deepened voice;
· Cessation of menstruation (amenorrhoea); and
· Diminished breast and uterus size.
The nature of the combined symptoms makes virilism comparatively easy to identify. Imaging tests can be used to obtain a view of the adrenal glands, and to determine the presence of any abnormal growths causing the virilism.
Adrenal virilism can usually be treated by surgical removal of the dysfunctional adrenal gland.
Dosage with small, additional amounts of other hormones and drugs may also have the effect of counteracting or blocking the androgens.