Ovarian overproduction of androgens is a condition in which the ovaries make too much testosterone. This leads to the development of male characteristics in a woman. Androgens from other parts of the body can also cause male characteristics to develop in women.
In healthy women, the ovaries and adrenal glands produce about 40% to 50% of the body's testosterone. Tumors of the ovaries and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can both cause too much androgen production.
Cushing disease is a problem with the pituitary gland that leads to excess amounts of corticosteroids. Corticosteroids cause masculine body changes in women. Tumors in the adrenal glands can also cause too much production of androgens and can lead to male body characteristics in women.
High levels of androgens in a female can cause:
These changes may also occur:
Your health care provider will perform a physical exam. Any blood and imaging tests ordered will depend on your symptoms, but may include:
Treatment depends on the problem that is causing the increased androgen production. Medicines can be given to decrease hair production in women with excess body hair, or to regulate menstrual cycles. In some cases, surgery may be needed to remove an ovarian or adrenal tumor.
Treatment success depends on the cause of excess androgen production. If the condition is caused by an ovarian tumor, surgery to remove the tumor may correct the problem. Most ovarian tumors are not cancerous (benign) and will not come back after they have been removed.
In polycystic ovary syndrome, the following measures can reduce symptoms caused by high androgen levels:
Infertility and complications during pregnancy may occur.
Women with polycystic ovary syndrome may be at increased risk for:
Women who have polycystic ovary syndrome can reduce their changes of long-term complications by maintaining a normal weight through healthy diet and regular exercise.
Reviewed By: John D. Jacobson, MD, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Loma Linda University School of Medicine, Loma Linda Center for Fertility, Loma Linda, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.