Prenatal treatment and diagnosis of congenital adrenal hyperplasia owing to steroid 21-hydroxylase deficiency

Arlene B. Mercado, Robert C. Wilson, K. C. Cheng, Ji Qing Wei, Maria I. New

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197 Scopus citations


Since 1986, prenatal diagnosis and treatment of congenital adrenal hyperplasia due to 21-hydroxylase deficiency (21-OHD) have been carried out in 239 pregnancies. In 145, diagnoses were made by amniocentesis, whereas 77 were diagnosed using chorionic villus sampling. A newly developed, rapid allele-specific polymerase chain reaction was used for DNA analysis in some cases. Of 239 pregnancies evaluated, 37 babies were affected with classical 21-OHD. Of these, 21 were females, 13 of whom were treated prenatally with dexamethasone. Dexamethasone administered at or before 10 weeks gestation (9 affected female fetuses) was effective in reducing virilization. Seven fetuses had affected female siblings (Prader stages 1-5); 3 of these were born with entirely normal female genitalia, whereas the other 4 were significantly less virilized (Prader stages 1-2) than their siblings. The remaining 2 newborns had male siblings; 1 was born with normal genitalia, and the other was Prader stage 1. No significant or enduring side-effects were noted in either the mothers or the fetuses, indicating that dexamethasone treatment is safe. Prenatally treated newborns did not differ in weight, length, or head circumference from untreated unaffected newborns. Based on our experience, proper prenatal diagnosis and treatment of 21-OHD is effective in significantly reducing or eliminating virilization in the affected female. This spares the newborn female the consequences of genital ambiguity, i.e. genital surgery, sex misassignment, and gender confusion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2014-2020
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1995
Externally publishedYes


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