Prenatal diagnosis for congenital adrenal hyperplasia in 532 pregnancies

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2001 Dec;86(12):5651-7. doi: 10.1210/jcem.86.12.8072.


Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) refers to a family of monogenic inherited disorders of adrenal steroidogenesis most often caused by enzyme 21-hydroxylase deficiency (21-OHD). In the classic forms of CAH (simple virilizing and salt wasting), androgen excess causes external genital ambiguity in newborn females and progressive postnatal virilization in males and females. Prenatal treatment of CAH with dexamethasone has been successfully used for over a decade. This article serves as an update on 532 pregnancies prenatally diagnosed using amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling between 1978 and 2001 at New York Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Medical College of Cornell University. Of the 532 pregnancies, 281 were prenatally treated for CAH due to the risk of 21-hydroxylase deficiency. Follow-up telephone interviews with mothers, genetic counselors, endocrinologists, pediatricians, and obstetricians were performed in all cases. Of the pregnancies evaluated, 116 babies were affected with classic 21-OHD. Of these, 61 were female, 49 of whom were treated prenatally with dexamethasone. Dexamethasone administered at or before 9 wk gestation (in proper doses) was effective in reducing virilization. There were no statistical differences in the symptoms during pregnancy between mothers treated with dexamethasone and those not treated with dexamethasone, except for weight gain, edema, and striae, which were greater in the treated group. No significant or enduring side-effects were noted in the fetuses, indicating that dexamethasone treatment is safe. Prenatally treated newborns did not differ in weight from untreated, unaffected newborns. Based on our experience, prenatal diagnosis and proper prenatal treatment of 21-OHD are effective in significantly reducing or eliminating virilization in the newborn female. This spares the affected female the consequences of genital ambiguity, genital surgery, and possible sex misassignment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Hyperplasia, Congenital / diagnosis*
  • Adrenal Hyperplasia, Congenital / drug therapy
  • Adrenal Hyperplasia, Congenital / enzymology
  • Adrenal Hyperplasia, Congenital / genetics
  • Amniocentesis
  • Chorionic Villi Sampling
  • Dexamethasone / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Gene Frequency
  • Glucocorticoids / therapeutic use
  • Heterozygote
  • Homozygote
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Care
  • Prenatal Diagnosis*
  • Virilism / prevention & control


  • Glucocorticoids
  • Dexamethasone