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Virilization, as a disease, occurs when androgen-induced male characters appear at the wrong time of development, or in the wrong sex, i.e. girls and women. In most cases, this is due to overproduction of androgens because of adrenal hyperplasia. But virilization may indicate other, serious problems, i.e. tumors in the ovaries or adrenal glands.


Hirsutism, (unusually thick, male-pattern growth of hair), accompanied by no other symptoms, or much milder ones than those occurring in virilization is often associated with the polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

Most cases of virilization [1] are due to congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH). The presentation of adrenal virilism depends on the sex of the afflicted individual and the stage of life when the disease is manifested. A baby girl born with the disease (the more severe, classical form [2]) displays various degrees of masculinization in the external genitalia (pseudohermaphroditism), sometimes to the extent that her sex is erroneously assigned as male [3]. In the less severe, non-classical form the symptoms may appear some years after birth. Affected girls born with normal external genitalia will show some characteristics of virilization, whereas boys will show early puberty.

The presence of excessive androgenic hormones – such as testosterone - is characteristic of this syndrome, which is as expected for the virilizing effects seen [1]. These hormones speed up growth; stimulate the maturation of bone structures; enlarge the clitoris in girls and the penis in boys, and cause hirsutism and acne. Further symptoms include deeper voice, balding of the head and reddening of the skin, developing stronger muscles, the cessation of periods, and increased sexual drive in women.

Some newborn babies present with a version of the disease in which there is a deficiency in maintaining normal salt and water concentrations [3] [4]. In these patients mineralocorticoid and salt supplementation are necessary; in the past many of these infants have died [2] [4].

Weight Gain
  • Case report A 41-year-old female, G3P3, presented with a 5-year history of gradual defeminization including oligomenorrhea, nonspecific symptoms of hypothyroidism such as weight gain, and relatively slow motion.[link.springer.com]
  • She reported frequent mechanical removal of facial hair, increased libido and a 14-kg weight gain and denied acne or voice change. Before this she had had an unremarkable reproductive history. She weighed 96 kg and was normotensive.[academic.oup.com]
  • No significant or enduring side effects were noted in either the mothers (other than greater weight gain in the treated mothers) or the fetuses, indicating that dexamethasone treatment is safe.[glowm.com]
Deepening of Voice
  • . • Hirsuitism • Acne • Deepening of voice • Increased muscle mass • Breast atrophy 3.[slideshare.net]
  • […] of voice -Differential dx Androgen dep tumor, CAH, Exogenous androgens, severe hyperinsulinemia Easier to recognize Female w/ CAH as abnormal than boy w/ precocious puberty as abnormal -The Prader Scale of Genital Masculinization -No to 5 Androgens in[quizlet.com]
  • Amenorrhea and then the gradual onset of virilization followed including increased truncal hair and deepening of voice 2 years prior to this presentation. There was no acne or baldness. She was not taking any kinds of medication.[link.springer.com]
  • Here we report a case of virilizing Leydig cell type, steroid cell tumor of the left ovary, in a 40 year old female who presented with clinical signs and symptoms of virilization: deepening of voice, hirsutism (Ferriman-Gallwey score 26), clitoromegaly[casesjournal.biomedcentral.com]
Increased Muscle Mass
  • . • Hirsuitism • Acne • Deepening of voice • Increased muscle mass • Breast atrophy 3.[slideshare.net]
  • -Ferriman-Gallwey Scoring System -Look at hair at body and giving it a score - 8 No Hirsutism - 8 25 Hirsutism - 25 Severe Hirsutism -More extreme response to excessive androgens -Ex. frontal balding, severe acne, clitoremegaly, increased muscle mass,[quizlet.com]
  • Signs of virilization might include: Deepening voice Balding Acne Decreased breast size Increased muscle mass Enlargement of the clitoris Causes At puberty, a girl's ovaries begin to produce a mix of female and male sex hormones, causing hair to grow[mayoclinic.org]
  • Other causes of virilization include: the use of male hormone supplements the use of steroids to increase muscle mass polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which is a condition in which women of childbearing age have multiple cysts in their ovaries Cases[healthline.com]
  • To describe a woman with postmenopausal virilization and hirsutism caused by hilus-cell hyperplasia.[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
  • A 58-year-old postmenopausal woman with high plasma testosterone levels and virilization, as demonstrated by hirsutism and alopecia, is presented.[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
  • Deep gruff voice Hair loss – baldness (androgenic alopecia) or thinning hair Increase in muscle mass Increased sex drive Acne In women, other signs and symptoms will also be apparent.[healthhype.com]
  • . • DD: Hypertrichosis, which is generalised excessive growth of vellus hair. • The aetiology is androgen excess 4.[slideshare.net]
  • Glucocorticoids cause hypertrichosis by promoting the passage from the telogen to the anagen phase of the hair follicle cycle ( Karpas 1987 ).[erc.bioscientifica.com]
Acne Vulgaris
  • vulgaris – Cushing's syndrome • When recent & with virilisation, suggestive of a rare androgen-secreting tumour 17.[slideshare.net]
Increased Libido
  • Upon questioning, she reported two years of worsening facial hirsutism, voice deepening, clitoromegaly, and increased libido. Laboratory testing revealed normal FSH, LH, DHEA-S, IGF-1, and 8 a.m. cortisol.[endocrine.org]
  • This is followed by hirsutism, acne, clitoral enlargement, increased libido, sterility, enlargement of the larynx, deepening of the voice, and temporal alopecia [ 9, 10 ].[casesjournal.biomedcentral.com]
  • She reported frequent mechanical removal of facial hair, increased libido and a 14-kg weight gain and denied acne or voice change. Before this she had had an unremarkable reproductive history. She weighed 96 kg and was normotensive.[academic.oup.com]
  • Starting in September, 1998, the patient developed hirsutism, defluvium capillorum, deepening of the voice, increased libido and aggressiveness.[erc.bioscientifica.com]
  • To report a case of a woman who presented with amenorrhea and masculinization secondary to an androgen-secreting granulosa cell (GC) tumor, with refractory masculinization. Case report. University medical center.[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
  • An 11-and-a-half-year-old girl with 45,X karyotype showed signs of accelerated growth and clitoromegaly and was found to have elevated serum T.[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
Secondary Amenorrhea
  • A 33-year-old woman presented to an endocrinology clinic with a 5-year history of secondary amenorrhea. 2 years before presentation, she had noticed progressively worsening signs of virilization.[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
Irregular Menstruation
  • This illness may have the following additional symptoms: (1) failure of the ovaries to produce, develop or release eggs (ova); (2) ovary enlargement; (3) failure to menstruate; (4) irregular menstruation ; (5) obesity ; and (6) infertility.[medicinenet.com]
  • Interestingly, her older brother presented with mild hypospadias and bilateral cryptorchidism and was found to carry the same homozygous CYP19A1 mutation.[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]


A diagnosis of virilization needs to differentiate between adrenal and ovarian origins, as well as between hyperplastic states and tumors as sources of the disease. It should be remembered that mild symptoms, or just hirsutism coupled with scanty periods and elevated testosterone levels, may indicate the most frequent condition of androgen excess in women: the polycystic ovary syndrome. This is a complex disease, with a somewhat problematic diagnosis [5] [6]. The examination of adult women should include ultrasound tests, determination of hormone levels, and biopsy for evaluating histopathological results. The latter is especially important if the symptoms are atypical or develop unusually fast, indicating the presence of ovarian or adrenal tumors [7] [8] [9]. Exogenously added androgens also have to be considered in the diagnosis.

Finding increased concentrations of adrenal androgens [2] [10] in the urine verifies adrenal virilism. Results at the high end of the urinary 17-ketosteroid assay can indicate adrenal disease, of which the most common is due to a deficiency of the 21-hydroxylase enzyme [2] [4]. Conversely, when urinary ketosteroid levels are in the low to normal range, it suggests an ovarian source for the disease [1]. Urinary 17-ketosteroid elevation can also be used to differentiate men with the adrenogenital syndrome from patients with other forms of sexual precocity.

The following androgens are elevated in the urine in adrenal hyperplasia: dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), its sulfate (DHEAS), and frequently pregnanetriol. DHEA and DHEAS, together with 17-hydroxyprogesterone, testosterone, and androstenedione may also be in the high range in the plasma.

The suppression of symptoms with exogenous steroid can be used to make the distinction between hyperplasia and autonomous adrenal tumor. Thus, tumors as the source of virilization can be ruled out if dexamethasone suppresses the androgen levels [1]. If no suppression is observed, the adrenal glands and ovaries should be examined by computerized tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or ultrasonography, to find a possible tumor. Stimulation by the administration of synthetic adrenocorticotropic hormone (cosyntropin) is expected to raise the 17-hydroxyprogesterone level if adrenal hyperplasia is the source of virilism [9].


  • Treatment is surgical, except for most infantile hemangiomas. Before deciding to offer surgical treatment, one should consider the degree of genital deformity and the risks of sensitivity loss and/or clitoral ischemia.[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]


  • Regarding the age of our patient and pathohistological findings of the tumor, her prognosis is favorable.[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]


  • Only few cases of maternal virilization during pregnancy were reported in literature and even fewer concern recurrent and bilateral ovarian etiology.[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
  • Etiology The disease is caused by a mutation in the CYP21A2 gene located on chromosome 6p21.3. As a result of this mutation, the synthesis of aldosterone is normal while the synthesis of cortisol is abolished.[orpha.net]
  • The etiology is usually of adrenal or ovarian origin.[casesjournal.biomedcentral.com]
  • Patients with aldosterone deficiency of any etiology may present with dehydration, hyponatremia, and hyperkalemia, especially with the stress of illness.[emedicine.medscape.com]


  • Summary Epidemiology The prevalence is approximately 1/40,000 as it accounts for about 25% of classic CAH cases. Clinical description Girls present at birth with ambiguous genitalia and variable levels of virilization.[orpha.net]
  • […] been described in which the ability to conserve sodium was intact. 108, 110, 111, 113, 115, 116, 117, 118, 119, 120, 121, 122, 123 It is claimed that 3 β -HSD deficiency is the second most common steroidogenic defect, 124 but as yet there have been no epidemiologic[glowm.com]
Sex distribution
Age distribution


  • In New MI, Levine LS (eds): Adrenal Diseases in Childhood: Pathophysiologic and Clinical Aspects, Vol. 13, pp 47–71.[glowm.com]


  • It is likely that virilization of the patient could have been prevented by earlier oopherectomy prior to development of hormone production.[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
  • AB - Context Prenatal treatment with dexamethasone to prevent virilization in pregnancies at risk for classical congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) remains controversial.[mayoclinic.pure.elsevier.com]



  1. Sherins RJ, Horton R. Hirsutism and virilization. Calif Med. 1967 Feb;106(2):87-91.
  2. Forest MG. Recent advances in the diagnosis and management of congenital adrenal hyperplasia due to 21-hydroxylase deficiency. Hum Reprod Update. 2004 Nov-Dec;10(6):469-85.
  3. Jaier JH, Louchart J, Cahill GF. Adrenal virilism. II. Metabolic studies. J Clin Invest. 1952 Oct;31(10):880-4.
  4. Wilkins L. Adrenal disorders II. Congenital virilizing adrenal hyperplasia. Arch Dis Child. 1962 Jun;37:231-41
  5. Hassa H, Tanir HM, Yildiz Z. Comparison of clinical and laboratory characteristics of cases with polycystic ovarian syndrome based on Rotterdam's criteria and women whose only clinical signs are oligo/anovulation or hirsutism. Arch Gynecol Obstet. 2006 Jul;274(4):227-32.
  6. Azziz R, Carmina E, Dewailly D, et al. The Androgen Excess and PCOS Society criteria for the polycystic ovary syndrome: the complete task force report. Fertil Steril. 2009 Feb;91(2):456-88.
  7. Juniarto AZ1, Setiawati BA, Ediati A, et al. Virilization due to androgen hypersecretion in a patient with ovarian leydig cell tumor: diagnostic and psychosocial implications. Acta Med Indones. 2013 Apr;45(2):130-5.
  8. Aminimoghaddam S, Ebrahimi AS, Hashemi F. A rare ovarian tumor, leydig stromal cell tumor, presenting with virilization: a case report. Med J Islam Repub Iran. 2012 Nov;26(4):185-8.
  9. Dennedy MC, Smith D, O'Shea D, McKenna TJ. Investigation of patients with atypical or severe hyperandrogenaemia including androgen-secreting ovarian teratoma. Eur J Endocrinol. 2010 Feb;162(2):213-20. doi: 10.1530/EJE-09-0576.
  10. Linder N, Davidovitch N, Kogan A, et al. Longitudinal measurements of 17alpha-hydroxyprogesterone in premature infants during the first three months of life. Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed. 1999 Nov;81(3):F175-178.

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Last updated: 2019-07-11 22:18