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Androgenic disorders of women: diagnostic and therapeutic decision making.

Women with androgenic disorders usually seek medical attention to ameliorate the effects of androgens on appearance or on fertility, less commonly for oligomenorrhea or for prevention of metabolic complications. These conditions affect at least 5-10% of women and can be very disturbing to the affected woman. Careful attention to possible androgenic changes is necessary when performing physical examination because changes are often concealed. Treatment for skin and hair changes depends less on the nature of the changes than on the underlying endocrine causation. The two endocrine factors are androgen levels and receptor sensitivity. The latter is a factor in all androgenic changes, and therapy is rarely successful without use of medication to block androgen receptors. If androgen levels are even minimally elevated, suppression of the source gland--ovary or adrenal--is appropriate. Ovarian suppression is usually by means of an oral contraceptive; for adrenal suppression, a glucocorticoid is effective. Response to medical therapy of androgenic disorders is slow; physicians and patients must be willing to wait weeks, or months, for the beginning of improvement. Endocrine therapy does not seem to help associated diabetes or dyslipidemia. Overall, medical therapy of androgenic disorders is more effective than generally recognized. The principal pitfalls are failing to select medication based on the specific endocrine disturbance and failing to wait long enough for improvement to appear. Side effects do occur but are generally uncomfortable or inconvenient rather than dangerous. Treatment is highly rewarding, however, for there are few situations in medicine in which treatment is so appreciated by the patient.

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