Androgen Dependence of Hirsutism, Acne, and Alopecia in Women: Retrospective Analysis of 228 Patients Investigated for Hyperandrogenism


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Abstract

Hirsutism, acne, alopecia, and oligo-amenorrhea are clinical expressions of hyperandrogenism, one of the most frequent endocrine disorders in women of reproductive age. Women referred to our endocrine clinics for skin symptoms of hyperandrogenism underwent a laboratory workup to evaluate hormone measurements and received antiandrogen therapy. We retrospectively analyzed the outcome of 228 consecutive patients investigated over 6 years.Patients with hirsutism had higher levels of androstenedione, dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS), and salivary testosterone; lower levels of sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG); and a higher prevalence of oligo-amenorrhea than patients with alopecia, while patients with acne showed intermediate values. Hirsutism score correlated positively with androstenedione, DHEAS, and salivary testosterone, and correlated negatively with SHBG; salivary testosterone showed the highest correlation coefficient. Total testosterone was not significantly different among patients with hirsutism, alopecia, or acne, and did not significantly correlate with hirsutism score. Hirsutism and oligo-amenorrhea were the most sensitive symptoms of hyperandrogenism, and no androgenic parameter alone allowed us to identify all cases of hyperandrogenism.Patients of central European origin sought consultation with milder hirsutism scores than patients of southern European origin. There was, however, no difference in the clinical-biological correlation between these groups, arguing against differences in skin sensitivity to androgens.Polycystic ovary syndrome, defined as hyperandrogenism (hirsutism or elevated androgens) and oligo-amenorrhea, was diagnosed in 63 patients (27.6%), an underestimate compared with other reports that include systematic ovarian ultrasound studies. Neither pelvic ultrasound, used in a limited number of cases, nor the luteinizing hormone/follicle-stimulating hormone ratio helped to distinguish patients with polycystic ovary syndrome from the other diagnostic groups. These included hyperandrogenism (hirsutism or elevated androgens) and eumenorrhea (101 patients; 44.3%); normal androgens (acne or alopecia and eumenorrhea) (51 patients; 22.4%); isolated low SHBG (7 patients; 3.1%); nonclassical congenital adrenal hyperplasia (4 patients; 1.8% of total, 4.9% of patients undergoing cosyntropin stimulation tests); and ovarian tumor (2 patients; 0.9%).Ethinylestradiol and high-dose cyproterone acetate treatment lowered the hirsutism score to 53.5% of baseline at 1 year, and was also effective in treating acne and alopecia. The clinical benefit is ascribed to the peripheral antiandrogenic effect of cyproterone acetate as well as the hormone-suppressive effect of this combination. Salivary testosterone showed the most marked proportional decrease of all the androgens under treatment. Cost-effectiveness and tolerance of ethinylestradiol and high-dose cyproterone acetate compared well with other antiandrogenic drug therapies for hirsutism. The less potent therapy with spironolactone only, a peripheral antiandrogen without hormone-suppressive effect, was effective in treating isolated alopecia in patients with normal androgens.

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