Hirsutism

 

A Definition of Hirsutism

Hirsutism is a medical condition in which excessive hair grows on the face and body. Although it affects both women and men, it is a much bigger problem for women. While many women may undergo treatment for unwanted facial or body hair, hirsutism is a distinct disorder because that causes the growth of thick, dark hair on the face, chest, abdomen and back.

Excessive hair growth usually starts around puberty, but mild forms of the condition can appear at any age.

Hirsutism affects five to ten percent of women in the United States.

 

Causes of Hirsutism

Hirsutism is caused by the production of abnormally high levels of male hormones known as androgen in the body.

Some conditions that increase the level of androgens are polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS, a condition which affects hormone production and which can lead to the development of cysts) and Cushing's disease (another hormonal disorder which usually results in fatigue and weight gain). Hyper-androgenism is also more common in obese women.

Tumors in the ovaries, pituitary gland and adrenal glands also cause excessive hair growth, as can hair follicles that are overly sensitive to male hormones. Studies show that hirsutism can be hereditary. Above average hair development is also more common among women of Mediterranean and sub-continental Asian descent.

Symptoms of Hirsutism

Hirsutism results in the appearance of extra hair, however the most common symptom of the condition is irregular menstruation.

It can also lead to feelings of anxiety and can affect a woman's self-esteem.

Symptoms of hirsutism are usually life-long.

 

Treatment

While there are generally no permanent cures for hirsutism, there are several treatments that can help reduce the appearance of unwanted facial and body hair.

Women who are overweight or obese are encouraged to lose weight, as weight loss leads to a lower level of male hormones in the body.

 

Local treatment includes shaving, but this can lead to stubbles and irritation. Depilatories are another option in removing unwanted facial hair; however women with sensitive skin may want to test the product on a small patch of hair before usingit on a larger surface area; bleaching can also diminish the appearance of hair. Waxing and plucking are not recommended because they can be very painful and irritating.

Electrolysis involves removing hair with a thread; this procedure is rather time-consuming and expensive, however it yields more long-term results in treating hirsutism. Excessive facial and body hair can also be treated via laser hair removal treatments but several such treatments are required in order to achieve noticeable results. Laser hair removal procedures can also lead to scarring, redness and in some cases, skin discoloration.

Medication can also be prescribed in the treatment of hirsutism. Anti-androgen pills can slow new hair growth and usually takes three to six months to produce results. Prescription creams can also slow the growth of new hair, with results becoming apparent after four to eight weeks. However, these treatments aren't effective in reducing the appearance of existing facial and body hair.

Oral contraceptives can also help treat hirsutism. This is because birth control pills reduce the production of androgens in the ovaries.

Hirsutism caused by tumors is the only form of the condition that can be cured; this type of hirsutism is cured by surgery or radiation treatment or by a combination of these two treatments.

 

Diagnosis

You should consult your doctor if you think you have one or more symptoms related to hirsutism. Your doctor will examine your menstrual cycle to determine whether it is regular or not; if it is, hirsutism is usually determined to be hereditary; if your period is irregular, your hirsutism may be caused by PCOS. Your hormonal levels will also be measured.

If hirsutism and menstruation are both deemed to be irregular, your excessive facial and body hair could be a sign of a tumor, either in the ovary, pituitary gland or adrenal glands.

 


 

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