If there has been excessive secretion of androgens from the adrenal cortex, this may give rise to precocious puberty if it happens in the pre-pubertal age.

Virilisation Symptoms

In females, of any age, this will result in virilisation. which means the appearance of typical male characteristics. There may be an increase in muscular development and hairiness (particularly the face and underarm), as well as enlargement of the clitoris, the equivalent of the male penis. In males the condition may be unnoticed until puberty is reached. Then precocious puberty occurs. This causes premature development of the external genitals, rapid bony growth and muscular development. The voice breaks prematurely, facial and body hair appears.

Libido increases, often dramatically, and can lead to psychosexual difficulties and social problems. Excessive male hormone causes the growing points of bones to close prematurely, so that growth may be stunted.

Apart from coming from the adrenals. the excess hormone may emanate from the pituitary gland due to a tumour that may press on the optic pathways, producing visual disturbances as well.

Virilisation Treatment

Substitution therapy with cortisone type drugs often successfully checks symptoms. However, if due to a tumour in the adrenals, the outlook may be poor. If cancer is causing the symptoms. spread can rapidly take place to other organs. Tumours of the pituitary must be treated either surgically or with radiotherapy. Sometimes hormonal therapy (medroxyprogesterone) by injection may assist if given long-term.