What is hirsutism?

Hirsutism is the excessive hair growth in women, which develops in areas where men often have hair such as the face, neck, chest, tummy, lower back, buttocks and thighs. Some women find the situation distressing and embarrassing to live with. Hirsutism is caused by an increase in the production of the hormone androgen, which is often thought of as the male hormone but both men and women produce it, just in greater amounts in men. 

What are the symptoms of hirsutism?

The symptoms of hirsutism are:

  • Excessive hair – which is dark and thick
  • Oily skin
  • Acne
  • A deep voice
  • Irregular periods or no periods at all

What are the causes of hirsutism?

Hirsutism is caused by an excess of male hormones (androgens), which can also cause acne, a deep voice and small breasts. Women develop extra hair growth as they age, particularly after the menopause. The commonest cause is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which causes irregular periods and fluid-filled sacs on the ovaries. Hirsutism may also be genetic and run in families. It is more common in people from the Middle East, South Asia and the Mediterranean. Other causes may include:

  • Cushing’s syndrome – when stress levels are high for too long, which produces the stress hormone cortisol for long periods of time.
  • Tumours – of the adrenal glands
  • Obesity
  • Congenital adrenal hyperplasia – an inherited condition, which affects the adrenal glands (the glands above the kidneys that makes hormones).
  • Medication – some drugs can change the hormone levels, particularly in drugs like anabolic steroids.

What is the treatment for hirsutism?

The main treatments include:

  • home hair removal methods – (read more below)
  • Specialist hair removal – electrolysis, where electricity is used to destroy the hair follicles, and laser hair removal, where beams of light are used to destroy hair.
  • Eflornithine cream – a prescription cream to slow down the growth of facial hair oral contraceptives.
  • Weight loss – if the patient is obese.
  • Medications – some drugs can change the way the body grows hair such as birth control pills or anti-androgen blockers.

What are the home hair removal techniques?

As home hair removal techniques are inexpensive, they will need to be carried out on a regular basis. The main ones are:

  • Shaving
  • Bleaching
  • Waxing, plucking or threading
  • Epilators
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