Hirsutism (say "HER-suh-tiz-um") is extra hair on a woman's face or body. This hair is dark and coarse. It grows in a male pattern: on the face, like a man's facial hair, or on the body, especially the chest and back.
What causes hirsutism?
Usually extra hair growth is not a medical problem. It can run in families or be a part of a woman's ancestry. In some women, hirsutism may be the result of higher-than-normal levels of male hormones, called androgens. These hormones are found in both men and women, although men have a lot more of them. In women, androgens are produced by the ovaries or the adrenal glands.
Women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) often have hirsutism, along with acne and irregular menstrual cycles.
But some women with hirsutism don't have PCOS or any other cause that can be identified. Their hormone levels are normal, and so are their menstrual cycles. These women had a gradual increase in coarse hair growth. It may be that they inherited hair follicles that are more sensitive to androgens.
Hirsutism may also occur in some people 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 blood tests or other tests to find out if a medical problem is causing your extra hair growth. If the cause is not a medical problem, treating it is often a matter of choice. That's because hirsutism usually isn't a sign of a health problem. 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 male sex hormones in your body.
- Topical cream. Your doctor may prescribe a cream that you rub into affected areas to slow hair growth.
- Electrolysis. This method uses a very thin probe in the hair follicle. An electric current through the probe destroys the ability of that follicle to grow hair.
- Laser hair removal. This is a medical procedure that uses light treatments to heat and destroy hair follicles.
Women who have PCOS and who are overweight may be able to reduce unwanted hair growth by reaching a healthy weight.
Some women prefer to use various home treatments for unwanted hair. These include shaving, waxing, and other methods to remove the hair.
Other Works Consulted
- Martin, KA et al. (2018). Evaluation and treatment of hirsutism in premenopausal women: An Endocrine Society clinical practice guideline. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 103(4): 1253–1257. DOI: 10.1210/jc.2018-00241. Accessed March 12, 2018.
Current as of: April 1, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Ellen K. Roh MD - Dermatology