What is hirsutism? Why does it happen? Is there a test? How is the treatment? Which doctor treats hirsutism? Does laser hair removal work? How is the treatment? What’s good? You can find the answers to all these questions and much more below.
What is hirsutism?
Hirsutism , also known as excessive female hair growth, is the excessive growth of “male” pattern hair that appears on the face, back, chest, abdomen, and thighs in females . Hirsutism is common and is usually a sign of an underlying endocrine disorder, most commonly polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) .
Weight gain in women with PCOS likely contributes to its development or worsening. There are treatments available that can help reduce and slow hair growth to improve overall quality of life.
Excessive hair growth in women is very common and affects 5-10% of all women. It refers to excessively dark, thick hair in areas where women usually do not have much hair. Light hair (yellow or white) is not considered hirsutism.
Many women feel distressed, anxious, and depressed if they have hirsutism. If you have hirsutism and it’s bothering you or causing you distress, it’s your right to seek treatment, even if your healthcare provider says it’s “mild.”
What causes hirsutism?
Hirsutism can be caused by:
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): This condition, which usually begins at puberty, causes an imbalance of sex hormones. Over the years, PCOS can gradually result in excessive hair growth, irregular menstrual periods, obesity, infertility, and sometimes multiple cysts on the ovaries.
- Cushing’s syndrome: This occurs when your body is exposed to high levels of the hormone cortisol. It can develop when your adrenal glands produce too much cortisol or by taking medications such as prednisone for a long time.
- Congenital adrenal hyperplasia: This inherited condition is characterized by abnormal production of steroid hormones, including cortisol and androgen, by your adrenal glands.
- Tumors: Rarely, an androgen-secreting tumor in the ovaries or adrenal glands can cause hirsutism.
- Medications: Some medications can cause hirsutism. These include minoxidil, danazol used to treat women with endometriosis , testosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone. You can also be affected by skin-to-skin contact if your partner uses androgen-containing topical products.
On a small note, often hirsutism occurs for no identifiable cause.
Who is at risk?
Several factors that can affect your likelihood of developing hirsutism include:
- Family health: Several conditions that cause hirsutism run genetically in families, including congenital adrenal hyperplasia and polycystic ovarian syndrome.
- Ancestry: Women of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and South Asian descent are more likely than other women to have body hair with no identifiable cause.
- Obesity: Being obese causes increased androgen production, which can worsen hirsutism.
What are the symptoms of hirsutism?
Hirsutism is hard or dark body hair, in areas of the body where women generally should not have hair; It occurs primarily on the face, chest, lower abdomen, inner thighs, and back. People have a wide variety of opinions about what is considered extreme.
When high androgen levels cause hirsutism, other symptoms may develop over time in a process called virilization . Virilization symptoms can include:
- deepening sound
- Hair loss
- reduction in breast size
- increased muscle mass
- enlargement of the clitoris
When should you see a doctor?
If you think you have a lot of coarse hair on your face or body, you should talk to your doctor about treatment options.
Excess facial or body hair is often a symptom of an underlying medical problem. If you experience signs of severe or rapid facial or body hair growth or virilization within a few months, you should consult your doctor for evaluation.
Which doctor should I go to for hirsutism?
For women with excessive hair growth, you can go to a doctor who specializes in hormone disorders (endocrinologist) or skin problems (dermatologist).
How is hirsutism diagnosed?
Tests that measure the amount of certain hormones in your blood, including testosterone or testosterone-like hormones, can help determine if high androgen levels are causing hirsutism.
Your doctor may also examine your abdomen and perform a pelvic exam to look for masses that could indicate a tumor .
How is hirsutism treated?
It is not necessary to treat excessive hair growth in women without signs of endocrine disorder. For women who need or seek treatment, treating any underlying disorder may include trying a variety of methods and medications, such as developing a self-care routine for unwanted hair.
If cosmetic or self-care hair removal methods haven’t worked for you, you can talk to your doctor about medications that treat hirsutism. It’s important to keep in mind that with these medications, the average life cycle of a hair follicle usually takes around six months before you see a significant difference in hair growth.
Medication options include:
- Oral contraceptives: Birth control pills or other hormonal contraceptives containing estrogen and progestin can treat hirsutism caused by androgen production. Oral contraceptives are a common treatment for overuse in women who do not want to become pregnant. Possible side effects include nausea and headache.
- Anti-androgens: These types of drugs prevent androgens from sticking to receptors in your body. If oral contraceptives are not effective enough, they are sometimes prescribed after six months. The most widely used anti-androgen to treat hirsutism is spironolactone. Results are modest and take at least six months to be noticed. Possible side effects include menstrual irregularity. Because these drugs can cause birth defects, it’s important to use contraception while taking them.
- Topical cream: Eflornithine is a prescription cream for excess hair, especially in women. It is applied directly to the affected area of your body twice a day. It helps to slow down new hair growth but does not get rid of existing hairs. It can be used with laser therapy to increase the effect.
Remember, your doctor will decide which medicine to take and how.
Other procedures that can be combined with medical treatment include:
- Laser therapy: A high concentration of light (laser) is passed through your skin (photoepilation) to damage hair follicles and prevent hair growth. You may need more than one treatment. For people with unwanted hair that is black, brown or auburn, photoepilation is often a better option than electrolysis. You can talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of the various lasers used for this hair removal method.
- Electrolysis: This treatment involves inserting a small needle into each hair follicle. The needle emits a pulse of electrical current to damage and eventually destroy the follicle. You may need more than one treatment. For people with naturally blond or white hair, electrolysis is a better option than laser treatment. Electrolysis is effective but can be painful. An anesthetic cream spread on your skin before treatment can reduce discomfort.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Self-care methods for excessive hair growth in women, such as the ones below, temporarily eliminate or reduce the visibility of unwanted facial and body hair. Also, there is no evidence that plucking the hair leads to further hair growth.
- Plucking: Plucking is a good method for removing a few body hairs, but not useful for removing a large area of hair. Plucked hairs usually grow back. This method of hair removal can be done with tweezers, thin threads or other devices designed for this purpose.
- Shaving: Shaving is quick and inexpensive, but needs to be repeated regularly.
- Waxing: Waxing involves applying warm wax to your skin where unwanted hair grows. After the wax has hardened, you pull it from your skin to remove the hairs. Waxing quickly removes hair from a large area, but can cause temporary discomfort, sometimes causing skin irritation and redness.
- Hair removal: Chemical depilatories are applied to the affected skin areas. These products are available in various forms such as gel, cream or lotion. They can irritate the skin and cause dermatitis. To maintain the effect, you need to repeat the epilation regularly.
- Bleaching: Bleaching lightens hair color, making it less noticeable in fair-skinned people. Hair bleaching products, which often contain hydrogen peroxide, can cause skin irritation. You should test the products you use on a small area of skin first.
Can hirsutism be prevented?
Excessive hair growth in women is generally not preventable. But if you’re overweight, losing weight can help reduce hirsutism, especially if you have polycystic ovary syndrome.
Excessive hair growth in women can be emotionally distressing. Some women feel uncomfortable having unwanted hair. Some develop depression. In addition, although excessive hair growth does not cause physical complications, the underlying cause of hormonal imbalance can cause it.
If you have hirsutism and irregular menstrual periods, you may have polycystic ovary syndrome, which can interfere with fertility. Women taking certain medications to treat excessive hair growth should avoid pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects