Hypergonadism vs. hypogonadism
Hypergonadism is a condition in which your gonads overproduce hormones. Gonads are your reproductive glands. In men, gonads are the testes. In women, they’re the ovaries. As a result of hypergonadism, you can end up with higher-than-normal levels of testosterone and estrogen.
Hypergonadism is less common than hypogonadism. Hypogonadism is another term for abnormally low hormone production in the gonads.
Hypergonadism and hypogonadism are both treatable. However, depending on when they appear, they can affect puberty, fertility, and other issues related to development and reproductive health.
Hypergonadism that develops prior to puberty can lead to precocious puberty. Precocious puberty is the early and rapid onset of changes related to sexual maturity. Hypergonadism is one of several possible causes of precocious puberty.
In boys and girls, hypergonadism can bring on:
- early growth spurts
- mood swings
- a lower voice
Some symptoms of hypergonadism and precocious puberty are unique to each sex.
In girls, hypergonadism can cause:
- early and irregular menstrual cycles
- early breast development
- coarse body hair
In boys, hypergonadism can cause:
- more muscle mass
- increased sex drive
- spontaneous erections and nocturnal emissions
Hormonal treatments aimed at slowing the onset of puberty can be effective, and may help to make for a more normal adolescence.
Doctors can’t always diagnose the cause of precocious puberty. Some conditions that are associated with it include:
- central nervous system abnormalities
- rare genetic disorders
- tumors in the pituitary gland or brain
- tumors in an ovary or testis
- adrenal gland disorder
- severe hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
In mild cases of hypergonadism prior to puberty, the onset of physical and mood changes may not be abnormally early or significant enough to cause any psychological or long-term physical complications.
If hypergonadism develops after puberty, men may face early hair loss and women may have some facial hair growth.
The underlying cause of hypergonadism is often never identified. When the cause of is unknown, it’s known as idiopathic hypergonadism.
There are several health conditions that are known to cause hypergonadism. Some of them include:
- tumors (benign or malignant) in the ovaries or testes
- liver or kidney disease
- severe infections
- some autoimmune disorders, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Addison’s disease
- genetic hormonal abnormality
- injury (lesion) to the pituitary gland, genital glands, pineal glands, adrenal glands, or endocrine glands
You’re at a higher risk of hypergonadism if you use anabolic steroids. That’s because those supplements can lead to abnormally high levels of testosterone and other androgens (male sex hormones) as well as estrogen, a female sex hormone.
Aside from acne and other physical changes, such as facial hair on women and more breast tissue in men, hypergonadism can cause some more serious complications.
Hypergonadism can interfere with regular menstrual cycles. That can make it difficult for women to become pregnant.
Men may also have fertility challenges, especially if their hypogonadism was caused by anabolic steroid use. Anabolic steroids can affect testicular health, including reducing the production of sperm.
Generally, the complications associated with hypergonadism are related to the underlying cause. Treating the cause may help reduce symptoms and complications brought on by hypergonadism.
If you notice precocious puberty in your child or physical changes in yourself that may be related to hormonal abnormalities, discuss your concerns with a doctor.
If hypergonadism is suspected, your doctor may order a blood test to see if hormone levels are unusually elevated. Additional tests might include a pelvic ultrasound to get a more detailed view of the adrenal glands and other parts, such as the ovaries (for women). Brain imaging may be done to look for tumors of the pituitary gland.
Treating hypergonadism is difficult. The goal is to reduce hormone levels, which is more difficult than trying to increase hormone levels.
The hormonal treatments that are administered for hypergonadism include a combination of hormones tailored to your particular levels. This can be a slow process. It may take some time to find the right mix of hormones at the right dosages.
If a specific cause can be diagnosed, then treatment will also focus on caring for that condition. If a gland has a tumor, for instance, it may be necessary to surgically remove the tumor. If the cause is severe underactive thyroid, you may be prescribed strong doses of thyroid medication to help restore healthier body chemistry.
Hypergonadism, unlike hypogonadism, is a rare condition, often triggered by a more serious health problem. Treating that underlying cause and working with your doctor to help balance out your hormone levels may help you avoid or at least reduce hypergonadism complications.
One important key is to see a doctor as soon as you suspect that there may be hormone-related problems. An earlier start to hormone treatment may mean a faster resolution.