Everyone has body hair. The amount and distribution of this body hair is generally determined by genetics, however, if excessive, can be distressing especially for women, and may indicate an underlying problem.
Hirsutism is a condition in which there is excessive, male-pattern hair growth in women. Coarse, pigmented body hair appears in parts of the body not usually covered with hair in women, such as the face, chest and back. Hirsutism, if caused by an underlying excess in androgens (male hormones), may be associated with other symptoms such as increased acne, balding, deepening of the voice, increased muscle mass and enlargement of the clitoris.
What Causes Hirsutism?
Hirsutism may be caused by either an increase in androgen levels, or an oversensitivity of the hair follicles to androgens.
The following conditions are associated with increased androgen levels:
• Polycystic ovary syndrome - this is the most common cause of hirsutism. It is a condition in which there is an imbalance of sex hormones, resulting in increased body hair, irregular or absent menstruation, obesity and infertility. Multiple ovarian cysts are found in this condition.
• Cushing's disease
• Congenital adrenal hyperplasia
• Tumours of the ovaries or adrenal gland
• Insulin resistance
• Certain medication
Diagnosis and Tests
Based on the patient's symptoms, the doctor will conduct a physical examination to look for other evidence of hormonal imbalances. Blood tests may be done to help determine the type and severity of these hormonal imbalances. Other tests such as ultrasound or CT scanning, may be performed to look for tumours or cysts in the ovaries or adrenal glands.
Medical treatment for hirsutism is selected based on the underlying cause. Drugs (anti-androgens) are often administered simultaneously while cosmetic hair-removal techniques are performed. It is important to note that these drugs, if required, must be taken continuously, because if discontinued, androgen levels will revert back to their original levels, resulting in re-growth of unwanted hair.
Hair-removal therapies include epilation, waxing and shaving. More permanent hair removal may be achieved by electrolysis and laser therapy which disable or destroy the hair follicles, and in so doing, prevent regrowth of hair.
Metformin (Glucophage), a drug commonly used in diabetes, reduces ovarian testosterone levels by competitive inhibition of ovarian insulin receptors. It is sometimes used in treating hirsutism in women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, the most common cause of hirsutism in women.
The article above is meant to provide general information and does not replace a doctor's consultation.
Please see your doctor for professional advice.