What is Hirsutism?
Hirsutism is the term for excess body or facial hair in women. It can be described as a male pattern of hair growth or distribution on a female body i.e. in the moustache and beard areas, or occurring more thickly than usual on the limbs. It may be the result of a serious hormonal disorder.
What are the causes?
The complaint of hirsutism is common and often accompanied by severe anxiety and social stress. Hirsutism is caused by an increased production of a group of hormones called androgens (male hormones). These hormones stimulate the development of male secondary sexual characteristics. The increased sensitivity of the skin to these hormones leads to hirsutism. Androgen disorders affect between 5% to 10% of all women. For most women the tendency towards hirsutism is inherited.
Although some women with hirsutism have increased amounts of male hormone, most have normal levels. The problem in these women is that the hairs are more sensitive than normal to small amounts of hormone. The hairs grow more quickly and thicker in response to it. The increased hair growth is usually first noted in late teenage years and tends to gradually get more severe as the woman gets older.
It can also be caused by other factors like:
Drugs (like cyclosporin, corticosteroids, diazoxide, streptomycin, interferon and acetazolamide.)
Birth control pills
Allergy and infections
What are the symptoms?
Patients with hirsutism due to hormonal causes will also have some
disturbances of menstruation, lack of ovulation, acne, deepening of voice, balding and overweight. It is more prominent on the areas of the face, which are androgen dependent.
What is the treatment?
Hirsutism may require a long-term treatment, as the problem tends to recur when the treatment is discontinued. Anti-androgens help control the male hormones that cause hirsutism. Anti-androgens usually take at least 3 to 6 months to work. They can decrease the amount of new hair growth, but are less likely to change the amount of hair one already has.
The agents used in the treatment include oestrogens (as oral contraceptives), cyproterone acetate, spironalactone as they all have anti-androgen activity. Other agents like bromocriptine, cimetidine and new agents like finasteride and flutamide can also be used. Eflornithine hydrochloride is used topically by women as a cream to remove unwanted facial hair. Losing weight reduces the amount of hormones in your body that cause increased hair growth. The local treatment like plucking, shaving, bleaching, creams or waxes may all help and are often used.
When should the doctor be consulted?
The doctor must be consulted if there is a sudden increase in the facial or body hair. Also, if the periods have become irregular or if the voice has become deeper, a specialist must be consulted.