Increased hormones called androgens are the cause of excessive hair growth in women. It affects between 5 to 10 percent of women.
The main difference between more typical hair on a woman’s body and face (often referred to as “peach fuzz”) and hair caused by hirsutism is the texture. When caused by hirsutism, the hair on a woman’s face, arms, chest, stomach, back, or chest is usually coarse and dark.
Hirsutism is a common condition, affecting between 5 and 10 percent of women. It tends to run in families, so you may be more likely to have this hair growth if your mother, sister, or another female relative also has it. Women of Mediterranean, South Asian, and Middle Eastern heritage are also more likely to develop the condition.
The presence of excess body hair can lead to feelings of self-consciousness, but the condition itself isn’t necessarily dangerous. However, the hormonal imbalance that can lead to it may complicate a person’s health.
Hirsutism isn’t the same as hypertrichosis, which refers to excess hair in areas that aren’t dependent on androgens.
Hypertrichosis and hirsutism can cause excess hair on the face and lower stomach, which is usually seen in men.
Women with higher than normal levels of androgen hormones can have facial hair. testosterone and androstenedione are hormones.
“The androgen levels in individuals assigned female at birth are low. If a woman’s body begins to produce more hormones than it should, she can develop hirsutism.”
There are a few conditions that can cause this hormone imbalance.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome
In addition to hirsutism, other symptoms of PCOS
- The menstrual cycle is irregular.
- Losing weight can be difficult.
- There is a problem with the skin
- Thin hair.
- Skin tags
- Difficulty with fertility
Adrenal gland disorders
Some forms of hormonal imbalance can cause hirsutism.
- A type of cancer called adrenal cancer.
- There are tumors of the adrenals.
- Congenital adrenal hyperplasia.
- The disease is called scurvy.
The adrenal glands are located above the kidneys.
People with Congenital adrenal hyperplasia. are born without an enzyme that’s necessary for hormone production. An adrenal tumor can cause the overproduction of certain hormones, such as prolactin. Individuals with The disease is called scurvy. have higher-than-normal levels of cortisol (cortisol is sometimes called the “stress hormone”).
All of these conditions can affect how your body produces androgens.
Symptoms of adrenal gland disorders can
- high blood pressure.
- bone and muscle weakness
- Excess weight in the upper body.
- There are headaches.
- unexplained weight loss
- weight gain
- high or low blood sugar levels
- There are periods that are irregular.
- Lower libido.
Taking any of the following medications can cause excessive body or facial hair growth.
- minoxidil stimulates hair growth.
- Steroids are synthetic variations of testosterone.
- In case of a testosterone deficiency, testosterone can be taken.
- It is used before organ transplants.
There is no cause for why women may experience hirsutism. It is usually chronic and may be harder to treat.
If a family member has been diagnosed with hirsutism, you are more likely to experience it.
Middle Eastern, European, and South Asian women are more likely to be hirsutistic.
Individuals with a previous diagnosis of polycystic ovary syndrome have a higher risk of developing hirsutism.
Your doctor will take a detailed medical history when he diagnoses hirsutism. Discuss your medication use with your doctor to find out what is causing your condition.
Your doctor will likely order blood tests to measure your hormone levels. In some cases, your doctor may also order blood work to make sure you don’t have diabetes.
If you’re living with obesity, your doctor may suggest losing weight to reduce the symptoms of hirsutism. Because obesity can change the way your body produces and processes hormones, maintaining a moderate weight may correct your level of androgens without the use of medication.
If you have hair growth that is excessive, you may need more treatment. Birth control pills and anti-androgen medications can be used to balance hormones.
- Anti-androgen medications: Steroidal androgens and nonsteroidal (or pure) anti-androgens can block androgen receptors and lower androgen production from the adrenal glands, ovaries, and pituitary glands.
- Combination birth control pills: These pills, which have both estrogen and progesterone, may help shrink the cysts from PCOS. The estrogen can also help reduce excess hair. These drugs are usually a long-term solution for hirsutism. You’ll most likely notice improvement after 3 to 6 months of drug therapy.
The doctor may prescribe a cream to reduce facial hair. The cream slows hair growth by interfering with hair follicles under the skin.
After a few months, your facial hair growth should slow. Skin rash and irritation are the side effects of eflornithine.
Hair removal techniques are not medical. Some people use these methods to keep their legs, bikini line, and underarms free of hair.
Waxing, shaving, and depilatories: If you have hirsutism, you may want to be more proactive about waxing, shaving, and using depilatories (chemical foams). These are all pretty affordable and take effect immediately, but they require continual treatment.
Laser hair removal: Laser hair removal involves using concentrated light rays to damage your hair follicles. Damaged follicles can’t produce hair, and the hair that’s present falls out. With sufficient treatments, laser hair removal can provide permanent or near-permanent results.
Electrolysis: Electrolysis is the removal of hair using an electric current. It treats each hair follicle individually, so the sessions can take longer.
Laser hair removal and electrolysis can be expensive and require multiple sessions to achieve desired results. Some patients find these treatments uncomfortable.
It is not possible to prevent hirsutism.
Losing weight may help with the symptoms if you have been diagnosed with a condition like PCOS.
“Hair growth can be a long-term challenge. If a woman’s hormones become out of sync again, the hair can grow back, but most women respond well to treatment.”
Depending on the underlying cause and treatment you choose, treating hirsutism may or may not be a lifelong commitment. Laser hair removal or electrolysis can provide more permanent results than shaving, waxing, or depilatories.
It is possible that conditions that cause hirsutism, such as PCOS or adrenal gland disorders, will need lifelong treatment.
If the symptoms of hirsutism are distressing to you, you can seek support and take care of your hormones.
What is the score?
“The degree of male pattern body hair growth in women is scored by the Ferriman-Gallwey index. There are pictures of hair distribution on the upper lip, chin, chest, back, abdomen, arm, forearm, thigh, and lower leg. Heavy hair growth is the main factor in the area’s score. The numbers are added together for a total score after each area is scored.”
Most experts agree that a total of 8 is indicative of hirsutism.
The Ferriman-Gallwey score is a reliable and inexpensive diagnostic tool for hirsutism. There are more expensive methods to determine the extent of hair growth. Photographs, computerized assessment of photographs, and hair shafts are included.
Deborah Weatherspoon, PhD, RN, CRNA, COIAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.