Androgen excess: Investigations and management

Best Pract Res Clin Obstet Gynaecol. 2016 Nov:37:98-118. doi: 10.1016/j.bpobgyn.2016.05.003. Epub 2016 May 19.


Androgen excess (AE) is a key feature of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and results in, or contributes to, the clinical phenotype of these patients. Although AE will contribute to the ovulatory and menstrual dysfunction of these patients, the most recognizable sign of AE includes hirsutism, acne, and androgenic alopecia or female pattern hair loss (FPHL). Evaluation includes not only scoring facial and body terminal hair growth using the modified Ferriman-Gallwey method but also recording and possibly scoring acne and alopecia. Moreover, assessment of biochemical hyperandrogenism is necessary, particularly in patients with unclear or absent hirsutism, and will include assessing total and free testosterone (T), and possibly dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS) and androstenedione, although these latter contribute limitedly to the diagnosis. Assessment of T requires use of the highest quality assays available, generally radioimmunoassays with extraction and chromatography or mass spectrometry preceded by liquid or gas chromatography. Management of clinical hyperandrogenism involves primarily either androgen suppression, with a hormonal combination contraceptive, or androgen blockade, as with an androgen receptor blocker or a 5α-reductase inhibitor, or a combination of the two. Medical treatment should be combined with cosmetic treatment including topical eflornithine hydrochloride and short-term (shaving, chemical depilation, plucking, threading, waxing, and bleaching) and long-term (electrolysis, laser therapy, and intense pulse light therapy) cosmetic treatments. Generally, acne responds to therapy relatively rapidly, whereas hirsutism is slower to respond, with improvements observed as early as 3 months, but routinely only after 6 or 8 months of therapy. Finally, FPHL is the slowest to respond to therapy, if it will at all, and it may take 12 to 18 months of therapy for an observable response.

Keywords: PCOS; acne; female pattern hair loss; hirsutism; hyperandrogenism.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • 5-alpha Reductase Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Acne Vulgaris / drug therapy
  • Acne Vulgaris / etiology
  • Acne Vulgaris / metabolism*
  • Alopecia / drug therapy
  • Alopecia / etiology
  • Alopecia / metabolism*
  • Androgen Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Androstenedione / metabolism*
  • Contraceptives, Oral, Combined / therapeutic use
  • Contraceptives, Oral, Hormonal / therapeutic use
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate / metabolism*
  • Eflornithine / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Hair Removal
  • Hirsutism / drug therapy
  • Hirsutism / etiology
  • Hirsutism / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Hyperandrogenism / drug therapy
  • Hyperandrogenism / etiology
  • Hyperandrogenism / metabolism*
  • Ornithine Decarboxylase Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome / complications
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome / metabolism*
  • Testosterone / metabolism*


  • 5-alpha Reductase Inhibitors
  • Androgen Antagonists
  • Contraceptives, Oral, Combined
  • Contraceptives, Oral, Hormonal
  • Ornithine Decarboxylase Inhibitors
  • Testosterone
  • Androstenedione
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate
  • Eflornithine