What is virilization?

Virilization is a condition in which women develop male-pattern hair growth and other masculine physical traits.

Women with virilization often have an imbalance in their sex hormones, including male sex hormones such as testosterone. Male sex hormones are also known as androgens. Overproduction of androgens can cause virilization.

Both males and females produce androgens. In males, androgens are produced primarily by the adrenal glands and the testicles. In females, androgens are produced primarily by the adrenal glands and to a lesser extent by the ovaries.

The use of anabolic steroids can also cause virilization. Anabolic steroids are synthetic substances that act like the male hormone testosterone.

Potential symptoms of virilization include:

  • male pattern baldness
  • excessive facial hair, usually on your cheeks, chin, and upper lip
  • deepening of your voice
  • small breasts
  • enlarged clitoris
  • irregular menstrual cycles
  • increased sex drive

You may also develop acne on these parts of your body:

  • chest
  • back
  • face
  • hairline
  • underarms
  • groin

Medical conditions that cause an imbalance in your sex hormone levels can result in virilization.

For example, an adrenal cortical carcinoma is a type of cancerous tumor that can develop on adrenal glands and lead to virilization. Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) and Cushing’s syndrome are other conditions that can affect your adrenal glands and result in virilization.

Other potential causes of virilization include the use of male hormone supplements or the use of anabolic steroids to increase muscle mass.

If you suspect that you may be experiencing virilization, make an appointment with your doctor.

Tell them about all of the symptoms or physical changes that you’ve experienced. Let them know about any medications that you’re currently taking, including birth control. Let them know if your family has a medical history of virilization or related conditions.

If your doctor suspects that you’re showing signs of virilization, they’ll take a sample of your blood. This blood sample will be tested for testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, and other hormones. An increased level of androgens, such as testosterone, often accompanies virilization.

If your doctor suspects that you have a tumor on your adrenal gland, they’ll order an imaging test, such as a CT scan. This will allow them to view structures inside your body in detail, which can help them learn if any abnormal growths are present.

Your recommended treatment plan for virilization will depend on the cause of the condition.

If you have a tumor on your adrenal gland, your doctor may advise you to have it surgically removed. If the tumor is located in an area that’s dangerous or hard to reach, they may recommend chemotherapy or radiation treatments. These treatments can help shrink the tumor before it’s removed.

If a tumor isn’t to blame, your doctor might prescribe birth control pills. These may help regulate your hormone levels.

Your doctor may also prescribe medications that block your body’s androgen receptors. These medications are also known as anti-androgens.

Virilization can cause women to develop masculine traits, such as male pattern baldness and excessive facial and body hair growth.

Virilization is typically caused by an imbalance in sex hormones. This may result from using male hormone supplements or anabolic steroids. It can also be caused by an underlying medical condition, like adrenal cancer.

Your treatment options will depend on the cause of the virilization. Talk to your doctor to learn more about your condition and recommended treatment plan.