Spironolactone versus placebo or in combination with steroids for hirsutism and/or acne

O. Lee*, C. Farquhar, R. Toomath, R. Jepson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Hirsutism is the presence of excessive hair growth in women and is an important cosmetic condition often resulting in severe distress. Hirsutism is most often caused by increased production of male sex hormones also known as androgens. It is also affected by increased sensitivity to androgens in the hair follicles, and the secretory glands around the hair follicles, called sebaceous glands. Spironolactone is an antiandrogen and aldosterone antagonist used to treat hirsutism. Since 1978, many studies have been conducted to determine its effectiveness. OBJECTIVES: The objective of this review was to investigate the effectiveness of spironolactone and/or in combination with steroids (oral contraceptive pill included) in reducing excess hair growth and/or acne in women. SEARCH STRATEGY: All publications of randomised controlled trials of spironolactone versus placebo and/or in combination with steroids (oral contraceptive pill included) were identified. Search strategy was developed by the Menstrual Disorder Group. All accessable electronic databases were searched. In addition, all reference lists of relevant trials were searched and drug companies contacted for details of unpublished trials. SELECTION CRITERIA: All randomised controlled comparisons of spironolactone versus: placebo steroids (oral contraceptive pill included)) spironolactone of varying dosages or spironolactone and steroids versus steroids alone when used to reduce hair growth and acne in women. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Four trials were included in the review, seven trials were excluded. Two other trials are awaiting assessment. All included trials were small (no more than 31 participants) randomised and controlled. Only one trial studied acne as an outcome, the remaining three were concerned with hirsutism. One trial investigated spironolactone versus placebo; one trial was a dosage studies of spironolactone; one trial compared spironolactone with spironolactone in combination with dexamethasone; the remaining trial used topical spironolactone for the treatment of acne. Major outcome measures include the following: - subjective observations - Ferriman and Gallwey hair scores - hormonal and biochemical parameters - side effects - sebum production measurement MAIN RESULTS: All sample populations were small and confidence intervals were wide. There was no significant difference between treatments for any of the observed outcomes. REVIEWER'S CONCLUSIONS: The effectiveness of treatment for either acne vulgaris or hirsutism cannot be determined due to the small sample populations involved in the trials. Its value in clinical practice is difficult to assess from currently available research.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (Online)
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2000


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