Merck Manual

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Quick Facts


(Adrenogenital Syndrome)


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Oct 2018| Content last modified Oct 2018
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What is virilization?

"Virile" means "manly" or like a man. Virilization is when women or children get manly features like extra facial hair, balding, acne, and a deeper voice.

  • Virilization is caused by high levels of male hormones

  • Abnormally large adrenal glands or a tumor in your adrenal glands usually causes virilization

  • Doctors treat virilization using surgery to remove any tumor and medicine to lower hormone levels

What causes virilization?

Women and girls normally have small amounts of male hormones. These male hormones are made in the adrenal glands. Adrenal glands are located on top of each kidney.

Adrenal gland problems that can cause virilization include:

  • Abnormally large adrenal glands

  • A cancerous or noncancerous tumor in your adrenal glands

  • Cancer in your ovaries

  • A problem with your adrenal glands that you’re born with

Virilization can also be caused when women take steroids to build muscle.

What are the symptoms of virilization?

People with virilization have physical changes including:

  • Extra hair on your face and body

  • Baldness

  • Acne

  • Deepening of the voice

  • More muscle

  • Increased sex drive

In women, physical changes include:

  • Uterus shrinks

  • Clitoris enlarges

  • Breasts get smaller

  • Menstruation stops

In children with virilization, growth may happen faster and end sooner than normal. Virilization before puberty may result in being short as an adult. Girl babies may have enlarged genitals. Young boys may sexually mature too early.

How do doctors tell if I have virilization?

Doctors will do:

How do doctors treat virilization?

Doctors will:

  • Do surgery to remove any tumors

If your adrenal glands are just overactive, taking corticosteroids sometimes lowers the amount of male hormones your adrenal glands make.

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
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