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What is hirsutism? — "Hirsutism" is the medical term for excess body hair in women. The hair is dark and thick, and grows in places where only men tend to grow dark hair. This includes the upper lip (mustache area), chin, chest, back, and upper part of the belly. Hirsutism is common. Women with hirsutism often find it very upsetting. It affects as many as 1 in 10 women who have not gone through menopause yet. (Menopause is the time in a woman's life when she naturally stops having periods.)
What causes hirsutism? — Many women have extra body hair because of their family background. They might be bothered by it, but it is not a sign of a hormonal problem. Other women get hirsutism because they have high levels of male hormones, called "androgens." Or it can happen if the hair follicles (the part of the skin that grows hair) are very sensitive to normal levels of androgens. Testosterone is the most important androgen. High levels are normal in men. Women normally have much lower levels than men.
The most common condition that leads to extra androgens in women is called "polycystic ovary syndrome" (PCOS). This condition also causes irregular periods, weight gain, acne, and other symptoms.
There are some more serious causes of hirsutism (tumors in the ovary or adrenal glands, which are located on top of the kidneys). But these are very rare.
What other symptoms should I watch for? — Watch for other symptoms of PCOS. Women with PCOS might have:
Irregular periods
Obesity or weight gain
Hair loss from the scalp
Should I see a doctor or nurse? — You should see your doctor or nurse if you:
Have hirsutism that appeared suddenly, or is getting worse quickly
Think you have PCOS
Are bothered by your excess hair and want treatment
Are there tests I should have? — Your doctor or nurse will decide which tests you should have based on your age, other symptoms, and individual situation.
Possible tests include:
Blood tests to measure hormone levels
Pelvic ultrasound – This test uses sound waves to make a picture of your uterus and ovaries. The pictures can show if you have PCOS or another problem.
Imaging tests, such as CT or MRI scans – These can show if a tumor is causing the problem.
Is there anything I can do on my own to treat the condition? — Yes. If you are overweight or obese, losing weight can lower androgen levels and improve symptoms. Losing just 5 percent of your body weight can help a lot. That adds up to 10 pounds of weight loss for a 200-pound woman.
How is hirsutism treated? — That depends on what is causing your hirsutism and how bad your symptoms are. If you choose to get treatment, options include:
Birth control pills. These are the most common treatment. They lower androgen levels and make periods regular.
Medicines called anti-androgens, which lower androgen levels or block the effects of androgens.
Removing extra hair or making it harder to see. Ways of doing this include:
•Shaving or plucking
•Chemicals and wax that remove hair
•Bleaching to make hair lighter
•Creams that slow the growth of hair on the face
•Electrolysis, which uses a tiny needle and a mild electrical zap to destroy hair roots one by one. Electrolysis works best on small areas of skin.
•Laser hair removal, which uses a laser to destroy hairs. This procedure works faster and is less painful than electrolysis. It is also more expensive. Most women need 4 to 6 treatments that happen every month or so. Women need to stay on their medication during and after laser treatment, or the hair will gradually grow back.
What if I want to get pregnant? — Most women with hirsutism are able to get pregnant. If you have PCOS, and you are overweight, losing weight can also make it easier to get pregnant. There are also medicines that can help you get pregnant. You should not take medicines to control hair growth if you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant.
What will my life be like? — Having extra hair makes most women feel self-conscious. None of the treatments make the hair go away completely. But they make it grow more slowly and help to decrease the amount of hair. Most women eventually feel better about their appearance. If you are not happy with the results of your treatment, ask your doctor about other options.
All topics are updated as new evidence becomes available and our peer review process is complete.
This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Mar 30, 2020.
Topic 15608 Version 6.0
Release: 28.2.2 - C28.105
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