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Definition

Virilization is a condition in which a female develops characteristics associated with male hormones (androgens), or when a newborn has characteristics of male hormone exposure at birth.

Information

Virilization may be caused by:

  • Excess testosterone production
  • Use of anabolic steroids (performance-enhancing or related to gender reassignment)

In newborn boys or girls, the condition may be caused by:

  • Certain medicines taken by the mother during pregnancy
  • Congenital adrenal hyperplasia in the baby or the mother
  • Other medical conditions in the mother (such as tumors of the ovaries or adrenal glands that release male hormones)

In girls who are going through puberty, the condition may be caused by:

  • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Certain medicines, or anabolic steroids
  • Congenital adrenal hyperplasia
  • Tumors of the ovaries, or adrenal glands that release male hormones (androgens)

In adult women, the condition may be caused by:

  • Certain medicines, or anabolic steroids
  • Tumors of the ovaries or adrenal glands that release male hormones

Signs of virilization in a female often depend on the level of testosterone in the body.

Low level (common):

  • Thick, dark facial hair in the beard or mustache area
  • Increase in body hair
  • Oily skin or acne
  • Irregular menstrual periods

Moderate level (uncommon):

  • Male-pattern baldness
  • Loss of female fat distribution
  • Decreased breast size

High level (rare):

  • Enlargement of the clitoris
  • Deepening of the voice
  • Male muscle pattern

Tests may include:

  • Blood tests to detect excess testosterone or other androgen hormones in females
  • CT scan, MRI, or ultrasound to rule out tumors of the ovaries and adrenal glands

If virilization is caused by exposure to androgens (male hormones) in female adults, many of the symptoms go away when the hormones are stopped. However, deepening of the voice is a permanent effect of exposure to androgens.

Gallery

Hypothalamus hormone production
The controlling hormones from the hypothalamus regulate hormone production by the pituitary. These hormones regulate body processes such as metabolism and control the release of hormones from glands like the thyroid, the adrenals, and the gonads (testes or ovaries).

References

Styne DM. Physiology and disorders of puberty. In: Melmed S, Auchus RJ, Goldfine AB, Koenig RJ, Rosen CJ, eds. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 14th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 26.

White PC. Sexual development and identity. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 220.

Last reviewed April 27, 2023 by Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team..

Related specialties

Clinical Trials: Virilization

UF Health research scientists make medicine better every day. They discover new ways to help people by running clinical trials. When you join a clinical trial, you can get advanced medical care. Sometimes years before it's available everywhere. You can also help make medicine better for everyone else. If you'd like to learn more about clinical trials, visit our clinical trials page. Or click one of the links below:

Strategies and Treatments for Respiratory Infections & Viral Emergencies (STRIVE)

Treatments are needed to improve outcomes among patients hospitalized for COVID-19, including direct-acting antiviral (DAA) agents to mitigate the pathology driven by ongoing viral replication. This trial will evaluate S-217622 (ensitrelvir), an…

Investigator
Nicole M Iovine
Status
Accepting Candidates
Ages
18 Years - N/A
Sexes
All

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