Hirsutism, in everyday terms, is ‘excessive hairiness’; in medical use it is most often related to women who have excess hair growth similar to the male patterns of growth. This condition is one of the most common endocrine conditions, with the increased hairiness indicating an abnormally high androgen presence in the woman. Although it may not present or accompany any ailment, it could cause the bearer emotional and mental anguish. Even mild symptoms of hirsutism may cause some women to feel less feminine and more insecure. Certain cases are severe enough to warrant surgery, but in most cases this isn’t necessary. Most important when dealing with hirsutism, is that you ensure that there isn’t an underlying health issue causing it.
Symptoms of Hirsutism
If a woman suffers from hirsutism the most common sign is the growth of hair, usually thick and dark (terminal) hair instead of thin and fine (vellus) hair. In addition, excess hair may appear in arrears usually attributed to male hair growth such as the:
- Upper lip or chin
- Belly – increased hair trail to the pubic region
- Genital and anal area
Hirsutism is usually present with things like oily skin, hair loss, an enlarged clitoris, deepening of the voice, decreased breast size and acne.
What causes excessive hair growth
Hirsutism is caused by an increase or an increased sensitivity of the male sex hormones androgen in a woman. Various androgens are present in men and women – the most active in men is testosterone, which is important in the development of the male sexual features. Small amounts of testosterone are also found in women where it contributes to sex drive and how fertility or periods may be affected. Dehydroepaindrosterone and Androstenedione are androgens that are also present in varying levels, which eventually go on to become testosterone. In around 20% of cases, there are no recognisable causes for hirsutism.
A cause of excess hair growth in some women is the androgen levels in the body. If the level of androgens is normal in a woman, then she is likely to become more sensitive to them, meaning they would have a greater effect on the body. This is no fault of the woman, and finding a correct and effective hair removal treatment can help allay any fears of self-consciousness.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
Excess hair from increased androgen activity in some women may actually be caused by an underlying condition that they are unaware of. This condition is known as PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) and is the main cause of excessive facial hair growth (hirsutism) in women in around 70% of cases. PCOS occurs when tiny fluid-filled sacs (cysts) surround the ovaries in the uterus. This usually causes an imbalance in hormones, which can lead to an increased level of testosterone in the body. As well as excessive hair growth, acne and irregular periods have also been said to be symptoms of PCOS.
Other minor cases of hirsutism in premenopausal women could be caused by:
- Medication- use of anabolic steroids, for example
- Tumours – any growths in the body could cause an increase in androgens
- Cushing’s syndrome- a rare hormonal condition than causes weight gain and bloating.
Additionally, when most women have started menopause several hormones in their body start to change, and an higher than normal level of testosterone can be in the body, which can lead to hirsutism in post-menopausal women.
Treating excessive hair growth
There isn’t currently any cure for hirsutism but there are various methods that many women have used and are using to treat it. A number of hair removal methods that have been said to help include: plucking, waxing, bleaching, shaving and laser therapy
Although these methods are effective in the short term, continued use of them can lead to irritation or inflammation of the skin, and in certain cases folliculitis (inflamed hair follicles), which would make it impossible to treat that area till it has cleared up. Some pre-menopausal women have found though that some oral contraceptive pills like Yasmin or Dianette (co-cyprindiol) can help to control the condition, as they contain hormones that supress androgen levels in the body. Fortunately there are prescription medication such as Vaniqua that have been formulated especially to slow down the growth of hair in the areas it is applied to. It is a clinically proven treatment and is effective within 4-8 weeks of use. Working on all skin types, it is effective in preventing the need for waxing of laser hair removal.
It is vital to understand the underlying cause of the excessive hair growth, if there is no direct cause for the hirsutism, such as PCSO, being overweight, or use of anabolic steroids then you can use provided prescription treatments which are clinically safe and tested to help to reduce excess hair.