Hirsutism (Excessive Body Hair)

Hirsutism is the medial term used to describe a condition in women where thick and dark hair grows on some or all body parts, such as the face, chin, chest, lower back and buttocks. Excessive hair growth in both males and females is referred to as hypertrichosis.

What causes Hirsutism?

An overproduction of male sex hormones, also called androgens, or heightened sensitivity to male sex hormones can cause this androgenic excess hair growth in women. Not only does hair growth proliferate, but the hair also becomes thicker with concentrated pigmentation.

Excess androgens in women resulting in Hirsutism may be caused by:

  • Cyst-formation in the ovaries; typically referred to as polycystic ovary syndrome.
  • Increased insulin levels from diabetes or obesity.
  • Adrenal gland cancer.
  • Congenital adrenal hyperplasia.
  • Cushing’s disease.
  • Medications.

For these reasons, Hirsutism may be referred to as a symptom.

Is Hirsutism common among women?

A Hirsutism diagnosis will depend on how the condition manifests. Research in the UK suggests that about three in twenty women who have not yet entered menopause experience excessive hair growth. Menopause changes hormonal balance and function, often triggering Hirsutism. About 75 percent of women, having gone through menopause, experience a slight increase in facial hair growth, referred to as Ovarian Hyperthecosis.

How is Hirsutism diagnosed?

Through physical examination a medical practitioner can identify excess hair growth. However, blood tests can be used to confirm the excess level of male sex hormones or androgens present. Testing for polycystic ovarian syndrome, menopause and insulin levels may also provide information for Hirsutism diagnosis confirmation. The Ferriman-Gallwey system provides a rating according to the degree and position of hair growth on a female.

Are there treatments for Hirsutism?

Hirsutism doesn't just have a cosmetic impact on women as psychological effects of the condition can be quite damaging to life opportunities and quality of life. Therefore, having treatment for Hirsutism is important for better health. There are a few ways to treat and manage Hirsutism depending on the cause, which include:

  • Hair removal: shaving, waxing or laser hair removal.
  • Hair bleaching: using bleach to change the hair shade from dark to light.
  • Hormone therapy: using the contraceptive pill.
  • Insulin treatment.
  • Overweight and obesity treatment.
  • Natural or alternative therapy.

Controlling excess hair growth depends on the hair growth cycle, usually six monthly, and results depend on the type of treatment as well as this cycle.

Health Impacts of Hirsutism

Hirsutism affects women severely because it can make them feel an intense lack of confidence in their appearance through psychological and emotional insecurity. Women may feel embarrassed by their excess hair, or feel “manly” instead of “feminine”. The Hirsutism symptoms may be accompanied by irregular menstrual flow, increased muscle mass, acne and a deeper voice. The condition can greatly affect well-being and quality of life, as we are so often judged after first impressions on our appearance.

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