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The clinical evaluation of hirsutism.

Hirsutism is a disorder of excess growth of terminal hairs in androgen-dependent areas in women. Other cutaneous conditions associated with androgen excess are androgenetic alopecia, acanthosis nigricans, and acne. Hirsutism is often associated with measurably elevated androgen levels, but not in all cases. Androgens in women arise from the ovary and adrenal glands, and peripherally from skin and fat. The most common cause of hirsutism is polycystic ovarian syndrome. Patients with "idiopathic" hirsutism have normal ovulatory cycles and androgen levels. Other causes are late onset congenital adrenal hyperplasia, Cushing's syndrome, and the HAIR-AN syndrome. Pituitary, ovarian, and adrenal tumors are important, but rare causes of hirsutism. A thorough history and examination are important. Laboratory investigation is essential in women with moderate to severe, sudden onset or rapidly progressing hirsutism. Identification of the underlying etiology does not alter management, but detects patients at risk for infertility, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and endometrial carcinoma.

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