What should be included in the physical exam for amenorrhea?

Updated: Oct 14, 2019
  • Author: Kristi A Tough DeSapri, MD; Chief Editor: Richard Scott Lucidi, MD, FACOG  more...
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Physical examination should begin with an overall assessment of sexual development, nutritional status, and general health. Measure height and weight and seek evidence for chronic disease, cachexia, or obesity.

In anorexia nervosa, hypothermia, bradycardia, hypotension, and reduced subcutaneous fat may be observed. Other findings include yellow skin (carotenemia) and a body mass index (BMI) of less than 18 kg/m2. In cases of frequent vomiting, look for possible dental erosion, reduced gag reflex, trauma to the palate, subconjunctival hemorrhage, and metacarpophalangeal calluses or bruises.

Examine the skin for evidence of androgen excess, such as hirsutism, hair loss, and acne. Acanthosis nigricans may be present in association with androgen excess related to insulin resistance (eg, diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). A BMI of more than 30 kg/m2 is common.

Examine for stigmata of Turner syndrome (short stature, webbed neck, low-set hairline and/or ears, pubertal delay, cubitus valgus, nail hypoplasia, short fourth metacarpal, high-arched palate, chronic otitis media, cardiac abnormalities).

Skin examination findings can also give clues to other endocrine disorders. Vitiligo or increased pigmentation of the palmar creases may herald primary adrenal insufficiency. Thin, parchment-like skin, wide purplish striae, and evidence of easy bruising may be signs of Cushing syndrome. Warm, moist skin radiating excessive heat may be a sign of hyperthyroidism.

Large pituitary tumors can cause visual-field cuts by impinging on the optic tract. In some cases, these visual-field cuts can be detected by simple confrontational testing.

Examine for the presence of axillary and pubic hair. These are a marker of adrenal and ovarian androgen secretion. In cases of panhypopituitarism, sources of androgen are low and pubic and axillary hair is sparse.

Also, some women develop the combination of autoimmune premature ovarian failure and autoimmune primary adrenal insufficiency. These women are also markedly androgen deficient and have scant axillary and pubic hair. The same is true for persons with androgen insensitivity syndrome, 17-hydroxylase deficiency, and 17,20-desmolase deficiency.

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