What is hirsutism?

Hirsutism is a common condition in which a person develops an excessive growth of hair. It affects 5% to 10% of women of child-bearing potential.

Women will often develop coarse, dark hair growth on the upper lip, chin, chest, abdomen, or back, instead of the fine hair sometimes referred to as “peach fuzz” that normally grows in those areas. Although this condition can cause much distress, it can be treated.

What causes hirsutism?

In many cases, the exact cause of hirsutism is not known. However, there are several conditions that are known to cause hirsutism. These conditions include:

  • The natural production of male hormones (androgens). Women naturally produce androgen, however, if a woman's androgen levels are higher than normal, or if her hair follicles are more sensitive to androgens, she may develop hirsutism.
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal condition that causes a woman to produce too many androgens. Women with PCOS may also have acne, irregular or absent menstrual periods, diabetes, weight gain, and/or problems with fertility.
  • The hormonal changes of menopause may lead to increased facial hair (mustache and whiskers).
  • Other more serious conditions. Hirsutism that occurs suddenly along with other male characteristics, such as a deeper voice, acne or increased muscle mass, may be caused by a more serious condition, such as disorders of the adrenal glands or ovaries.
  • Medications. The following medications can cause hirsutism:
    • Anabolic steroids
    • Testosterone
    • Glucocorticoids
    • Cyclosporine (Sandimmune®)
    • Minoxidil (Loniten®, Rogaine®)
    • Danazol (Danocrine®)
    • Phenytoin (Dilantin®)

What are the symptoms of hirsutism?

The main symptom of hirsutism is thick, coarse, dark hair that grows on parts of the body where it would normally grow as fine, thin hair. For example, hair may grow thicker and coarser on the face, chest, back, lower abdomen, upper arms, or upper legs of women.

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