Learning About Hirsutism

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What is hirsutism?

Hirsutism (say "HER-suh-tiz-um") is excess hair on a woman's face or body. It can run in a woman's family. Most of the time, hirsutism is not caused by a medical problem. But once in a while, hirsutism can be a sign of a health problem.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of hirsutism include extra hair that grows on a woman's face, like it does on a man's face. Or it grows on the body, especially the chest and back. The hair is dark and coarse.

What causes hirsutism?

Hirsutism is common in women who have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). This syndrome affects your hormone balance, ovulation, and menstrual periods.

In some women, hirsutism may be caused by higher-than-normal levels of male hormones called androgens. These hormones are found in both men and women, though men have a lot more of them. In women, androgens are produced by the ovaries or the adrenal glands.

But some women with hirsutism don't have PCOS or any other cause that can be found. Their hormone levels are normal, and so are their menstrual cycles. These women may have been born with hair follicles that are more sensitive to androgens.

Hirsutism may also occur in some women who have diabetes or who are obese.

In rare cases, the ovaries or adrenal glands may have a problem that can cause this hair growth.

How is it treated?

Your doctor may want to do some tests to find out if a medical problem is causing your excess hair growth. If the cause is not a medical problem, treating it is often a matter of choice. Treatments include:

  • Birth control pills. This is the most common treatment. Birth control pills contain hormones, so they help balance your body's hormone level.
  • Antiandrogens. These are prescription medicines that lower the amount of certain hormones in your body.
  • Topical cream. Your doctor may prescribe a cream that you rub into affected areas to slow hair growth.
  • Laser hair removal. This procedure uses laser treatments to heat and destroy hair follicles. Hair can be removed for good, but it may take many treatments.
  • Electrolysis. An electric current is applied to the hair root. This is also permanent, and it may take many treatments. It can also cause scars.

If your doctor prescribed medicines, take them as directed. Be safe with medicines. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.

Women who have PCOS and who are overweight may be able to reduce excess hair growth by reaching a healthy weight.

Home care

Some women prefer to use home treatments for unwanted hair. These treatments include:

  • Using depilatories. These are over-the-counter creams that dissolve hair. They may irritate the skin. Hair growth returns.
  • Waxing. This treatment pulls the hair out by the root. Repeated waxing may result in less hair growth, but it can be painful and may irritate the skin.
  • Shaving. Shaving does not increase hair growth, but it can cause stubble.
  • Tweezing. This takes a lot of time and can be painful.
  • Bleaching. Bleaching makes hair lighter and harder to see. New hair that grows in will be its natural color.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.