Hirsutism is a condition that causes excess hair to grow on certain parts of your body. It mainly affects women and people assigned female at birth. Hirsutism doesn’t have a known cause, but it’s a symptom of other conditions, including polycystic ovary syndrome. Treatment options include weight loss, medications and other hair removal options.
Hirsutism is a common condition that causes excessive hair growth. It primarily affects women and people assigned female at birth (AFAB).
You may develop coarse, dark hair growth on your upper lip, chin, chest, abdomen or back instead of the fine hair sometimes referred to as “peach fuzz” that commonly grows in those areas. Hirsutism can cause distress, but it’s treatable.
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Hirsutism mainly affects women and people AFAB. It can affect men and people assigned male at birth (AMAB), but it’s difficult to tell the difference between hirsutism and typical thick, dark, long hair growth (terminal hair).
You’re more likely to have hirsutism if you have a family history of conditions that cause it, especially polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and congenital adrenal hyperplasia. Obesity can also increase your chances of having hirsutism.
You’re also more likely to have hirsutism if you’re Mediterranean, Hispanic, South Asian or Middle Eastern.
Hirsutism rarely affects children. If it does, it’s typically a sign of early puberty.
Hirsutism affects 5% to 10% of women and people AFAB who are around child-bearing age. It affects over 40% of women and AFAB at some point during their lives.
Hirsutism doesn’t affect your physical health. However, it can affect you psychosocially (how society and social groups affect your thoughts and emotions) and psychologically (how you think about yourself and your behavior). You may experience emotional stress, anxiety and depression.
The main symptom of hirsutism is dark hair growth.
Another symptom of hirsutism is virilization. Virilization is a condition in which you develop the secondary sex characteristics of men and people AMAB. Virilization occurs when your androgen levels are high. Androgens are a group of sex hormones that help people enter puberty and mature physically. Men and people AMAB make more androgens than women and people AFAB.
Some of the secondary sex characteristics you may develop from virilization include:
Hirsutism causes thick, coarse, dark hair to grow on parts of your body that would commonly grow as fine, thin hair. For example, hair may grow thicker and coarser on your face, chest, back, lower abdomen, upper arms or lower legs.
In many cases, hirsutism doesn’t have a known cause. However, several conditions cause hirsutism, including:
PCOS isn’t the only cause of hirsutism. However, 70% to 80% of all people with PCOS develop hirsutism.
No, hirsutism isn’t contagious.
Your healthcare provider will conduct a physical examination to determine the extent of the uncommon hair growth. They’ll also note any other physical signs that may accompany the hair growth, such as acne.
Once your healthcare provider has diagnosed hirsutism, they may use the Ferriman-Gallwey scale to grade its severity. The Ferriman-Gallwey scale examines nine areas of your body: your upper lip, chin, chest, upper abdomen, lower abdomen, upper arms, thighs, upper back and lower back/butt (buttocks).
These areas receive a 0-4 score based on hair growth. A low number means your hirsutism is mild, and a high number means your hirsutism is more severe.
After examining the areas, your healthcare provider will add the scores together. If you’re Black or white, a total score less than 8 is common. If you’re Mediterranean, Hispanic or Middle Eastern, a total score less than 9 or 10 is common. If you’re Asian, a total score less than 2 is common.
If you have hirsutism, your healthcare provider may perform a variety of tests, including:
Yes, hirsutism is treatable. Treatments include:
Weight loss is often the first step in treating hirsutism. Losing even 5% of your body weight can lower your androgen levels and stop excessive hair growth.
It depends on the severity of your hirsutism and your treatment.
Medications may take weeks or months before you see noticeable results.
You may need to schedule electrolysis appointments every week or every other week. The appointments can last for up to a year and a half. For laser hair removal, you’ll likely need six to eight treatments, and appointments are about six to eight weeks apart.
Shaving immediately cuts your hairs down, but it doesn’t remove the roots. You may have stubble in as little as a few hours. Waxing and tweezing your hair removes the roots. The results should last from three to six weeks. The effects of bleaching may last up to a month.
Reducing your risk of developing hirsutism depends on its cause.
If you have PCOS, losing weight through healthy eating and regular exercise may help reduce your risk.
If you’re taking any medications that may cause hirsutism, talk to your healthcare provider about how to reduce your risk.
Hirsutism requires ongoing treatment. None of the treatments make the hair go away completely, but they help make your hair grow more slowly and decrease the amount of unwanted hair. Most people are happy with their results once they find an effective treatment regimen that works for them. Once you find an effective treatment, you may use it long-term.
It’s a good idea to see your healthcare provider as soon as you notice unusual hair growth. Hirsutism may be a symptom of PCOS, Cushing’s syndrome or other conditions.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Hirsutism is a common condition that mainly affects women and people assigned female at birth (AFAB). It doesn’t cause any pain, but it may be a symptom of another condition, including polycystic ovarian syndrome, Cushing’s syndrome, an adrenal gland disorder or an ovary disorder. Unwanted hair can also make you feel embarrassed, which can affect your mental health.
It’s a good idea to reach out to your healthcare provider as soon as you notice signs of hirsutism, especially if it causes stress, anxiety or depression. Medications and treatments are available to limit your unwanted hair growth.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/08/2022.
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