Mild androgen phenotypes

Enrico Carmina
Best Practice & Research. Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 2006, 20 (2): 207-20
Mild androgen phenotypes are found in 30-40% of patients referred to an endocrine clinic because of suspected hyperandrogenic syndrome. These disorders are characterized by clinical or biological signs of hyperandrogenism in women with normal ovulatory menstrual cycles. Three main mild androgen disorders may be distinguished: ovulatory polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), idiopathic hyperandrogenism, and idiopathic hirsutism. Ovulatory PCOS includes ovulatory hyperandrogenic patients presenting with polycystic ovaries. Using ESHRE/ASRM criteria for diagnosis of PCOS, this disorder is now part of PCOS spectrum. While in vivo and in vitro studies have confirmed the similarities between the two forms of PCOS, ovulatory PCOS presents clinicians with some unique problems. In fact, fertility is not a problem, but insulin resistance is present, and although milder than in classic PCOS it may be associated with an increased cardiovascular and metabolic risk. Because of this, an ovarian sonography should be performed in all ovulatory hyperandrogenic patients, and when polycystic ovaries are found cardiovascular and metabolic risk should be carefully evaluated. Ovulatory PCOS patients with altered glucose tolerance and/or with dyslipidaemia may need treatment with insulin-sensitizing agents. Idiopathic hyperandrogenism regroups ovulatory patients with increased androgen levels and normal ovaries, while idiopathic hirsutism includes ovulatory patients presenting with hirsutism but normal circulating androgens and normal ovaries. The differentiation between these two disorders may be difficult because commercial assays of androgen levels are generally unreliable. While idiopathic hyperandrogenism may be associated with insulin resistance, neither disorder is associated with an increased cardiovascular risk. The main clinical problem is hirsutism, and this may be approached by aesthetic or pharmacological therapies.


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