Hirsutism and How it can be Treated

Excess Facial Hair: The Facts for Women

The condition in which excessive, unwanted hair grows on the bodies and faces of women is known as hirsutism. All women have body and facial hair, but it is normally very light in colour and very fine. Texture is the primary difference between normal hair and hirsutism.

This unusually thick hair that grows on the arms, back, chest or face of women is generally dark and coarse, with a growth pattern that is similar to that normally seen in men. Excess body hair is generally seen as more embarrassing than it is medically problematic, but hirsutism is caused by a hormonal imbalance, which could cause a woman’s health to be compromised.

Causes

Women develop excessive facial or body hair because of a higher than normal amount of male hormones in their system. These hormones are known as androgens and include testosterone. Androgens are produced by women, but usually at low levels. There are a number of medical conditions that can cause an excess number of androgens to be produced in women, and they can cause a variety of unwanted masculine characteristics, including a deep voice as well as male pattern hair growth.

One of those medical conditions is polycystic ovarian syndrome, which involves benign cysts on the ovaries that impact on the production of hormones, often causing decreased fertility and irregular menstrual cycles. Women who suffer from PCOS also have a tendency to be overweight and suffer from acne, often severely. There are different kinds of hormonal imbalance that can result in excessive hair growth, including adrenal gland disorders such as:

  • Adrenal cancer

  • Congenital adrenal hyperplasia

  • Adrenal tumours

  • Cushing disease

Adrenal glands are situated just above the kidneys and control the production of hormones. People who suffer from congenital adrenal hyperplasia lack the enzyme that is required for the production of hormones. Cushing disease sufferers have cortisol levels that are higher than normal. The production of androgens by the body can all be affected by these conditions. However, excessive facial or body hair growth can also be caused by medications including:

  • Minoxidil

  • Testosterone

  • Anabolic steroids

  • Cyclosporine

Hirsutism has a tendency to run in families.

Diagnosis

In order to diagnose hirsutism, your doctor will first take an extensive medical history. You should also discuss your use of medications with your GP or online doctor, in order to give them all the information they need to determine what is causing your condition. Blood tests will also be ordered to check your hormone levels. It may also be necessary to have MRI or Ultrasound scans performed of the ovaries and the adrenal glands in order to check for cysts or tumours.

Treatment

If excessive hair growth has been caused by PCOS or adrenal disorders then you may require medical treatment. Hormone levels can be balanced by drug therapy such as birth control pills and anti-androgen medications. Birth control pills can also be used to shrink cysts positioned on ovaries. Such drugs are usually necessary in order to find a long-term solution for the problem of hirsutism. Improvement is likely after between three to six months.

Eflornithine cream may be prescribed in order to cut down on facial hair growth, which should then slow after a couple of months at the most. However, eflornithine can cause side-effects such as irritation and skin rash. Obesity can also affect the way the production and processing of hormones is handled by the body, so losing weight will probably be recommended by your GP or an online clinic if you are overweight.

Reaching and maintaining a healthier weight could cause your androgen level to correct without the need for medication. A non-medical method of managing unwanted or excessive hair is the use of hair removal techniques. Many women already use such techniques to remove hair from their bikini line, legs and underarms, though hirsutism sufferers will need to be much more proactive regarding shaving, waxing and the use of chemical foams.

Electrolysis and laser hair removal are likewise effective methods of permanently removing unwanted, coarse hair. Electrolysis removes hair with the use of an electric current, while laser hair removal damages hair follicles with concentrated light rays. However, both of these methods will require multiple sessions and can be very expensive.