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The Hirsute woman: challenges in evaluation and management.

OBJECTIVE: To review the etiology, pathogenesis, diagnostic approach, and management of hirsutism.

METHODS: We discuss the clinical course of hirsutism and provide our recommendations on the various treatment options available.

RESULTS: Hirsutism is a common clinical problem characterized by the presence of increased terminal hair growth in androgen-dependent areas of the skin. The development of hirsutism depends on the presence of the pilosebaceous unit, which is genetically determined, as well as the presence of the androgen receptor and intracellular 5α-reductase activity, which converts testosterone to its more active metabolite, dihydrotestosterone. A detailed history and physical examination and the following laboratory tests can diagnose most causes of hirsutism: early-morning follicular phase measurement of total testosterone, testosterone not bound to sex hormone-binding globulin, dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate, 17-hydroxyprogesterone, prolactin, and thyrotropin levels. Oral contraceptive preparations may be effective monotherapy for mild hirsutism. For the treatment of more severe hirsutism, oral contraceptive pills combined with spironolactone are as effective as oral contraceptive pills containing cyproterone acetate, which are not available in the United States. Because of teratogenicity, spironolactone should be used with caution in premenopausal women when it is administered without an oral contraceptive pill. Metformin is an alternative therapy for hirsutism in women with polycystic ovary syndrome who have other indications for metformin use. Metformin is not as effective as antiandrogens for the management of hirsutism. The use of glucocorticoids, finasteride, or flutamide is not recommended.

CONCLUSIONS: Hirsutism can be evaluated with a detailed history and physical examination and a limited number of hormonal tests. Serious disorders presenting as hirsutism are rare and can be excluded with the recommended evaluation. Treatment is targeted at reducing the production and bioavailability of testosterone, as well as blocking target tissue androgen action.

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