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Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 2002 Feb;56(2):231-8.

Complete virilization in congenital adrenal hyperplasia: clinical course, medical management and disease-related complications.

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  • 1Children's Hospital, University of Bonn, Germany.



In girls with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), genital ambiguity usually leads to a rapid neonatal diagnosis. Rarely, CAH causes complete virilization and male sex assignment with a delayed diagnosis. After being confronted with very specific problems in two of such patients, we collected data of patients with CAH and complete virilization in a nationwide study to delineate specific problems of these rare patients in order to improve their management.


Through the German Working Group of Paediatric Endocrinology (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Pädiatrische Endokrinologie, APE), questionnaires were sent to all members caring for patients with CAH and complete virilization in their endocrine clinics. Data from 16 patients from 10 paediatric endocrine centres were assessed by questionnaire.


The following problems have been encountered. (1) Sex assignment/gender identity: initially all patients had a male sex assignment. Six patients were diagnosed during the first month of life. Five were reassigned to female sex immediately, one at the age of 19 months. Except in one girl demonstrating some tomboyish behaviour, gender role behaviour in these patients did not differ from unaffected girls. Ten patients were diagnosed late at 3.4--7 years of age. In seven patients with a late diagnosis, male sex assignment was maintained; one of them expressed some concerns about living as a male. In three patients late sex reversal was performed, gender identity is very poor in one and new sex assignment is currently under consideration. (2) SURGERY: irrespective of the sex assigned, all patients had between one and three surgical procedures, including clitoris reduction and (repeated) vaginoplasties in patients with female sex assignment. Hysterectomy and ovarectomy were performed in patients with male sex assignment. (3) Short stature: patients with a late diagnosis of CAH had extremely advanced bone ages of +6.3 to +9.5 years, leading to severely reduced final height of 137 to 150 cm in adult patients. Patients tended to follow height percentiles of genetic females. One pubertal patient was suicidal due to short stature. (4) Central precocious puberty (CPP): prolonged exposition to adrenal androgens led to CPP in one patient. He was treated with GnRH analogues until gonadectomy.


Patients with CAH and complete virilization have a high risk of being diagnosed late. There are major problems and uncertainties of the patients' families and the treating physicians concerning gender assignment. Gender identity is disturbed in some patients. In addition, multiple surgical procedures are necessary and short stature as well as central precocious puberty might be important to avoid late sequelae. While some surgical interventions are probably unavoidable, most of these issues could be resolved with an early diagnosis. Thus, especially for these patients, a neonatal screening programme for CAH would be of paramount importance.

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