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Hirsutism (Excess Hair)

Hirsutism is the medical term for a condition in which excess hair grows on a woman in places only adult men should grow hair. Although hirsutism can occur in both men and women, usually it is considered a problem only in women. At least 25% and as many as 85% of normal middle-aged women remove unwanted facial and body hair, even though some of them are termed hirsute. For most of them, hirsutism is inherited. Excess hair growth could be present in both the female and male family members and usually begins around puberty. However mild hirsutism could begin at any age; for instance, the majority of women gradually develop more facial or body hair with age.

Causes of hirsutism

Hirsutism is usually the result of abnormally high levels of male hormones (called androgens). Androgen disorders (also called hyperandrogenism) affect between 5% - 10% of all women. This means increased levels of male hormone production in women, the most commonly seen symptom of which irregular menstrual cycles.
Other symptoms linked to high levels of v include acne, irregular menstrual periods, deepening of the voice and increased muscle mass. Here are some of the conditions that could increase a woman's normally low levels of male hormones:

  • Cushing's disease
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Tumors in the ovaries or adrenal gland, that are formed as a result of abnormal cells growing out of control and clumping together

Hirsutism could also the result of hair follicles that are overly sensitive to male hormones. However, medical science doesn't know why this happens. Certain medications are also known to cause hirsutism. They include birth control pills, hormones and anabolic steroids.

Hirsutism also seems to be a hereditary problem. If you have hirsutism, your family doctor might have to conduct some tests to find out the cause. If you have a sudden increase in facial or body hair, if your periods have become irregular or if your voice has become deeper you ought to see your doctor.

Solutions for hirsutism

If you're overweight, lose weight as it decreases the amount of hormones in the body that cause increased hair growth. Some other ways to get rid of or hide excess facial and body hair include:

Shaving: This is the safest and easiest method of removing hair. However, unless you shave every day, you will have stubble.

Plucking and waxing: This could cause skin irritation and make your hair grow faster by raising the blood supply to the follicle.

Bleaching paste: This could also be used, but according to the directions on the label. Bleaching products may irritate your skin.

Electrolysis: It eliminates hair permanently by sending a small electrical current through a needle placed into the hair follicle. This is expensive and time-consuming, but if you decide to go in for electrolysis, see that the surgeon is qualified and licensed.

Laser hair removal: This technique employs a laser light to damage hair follicles so that unwanted hair falls out and also stops hair from growing back. However, you will probably need many laser treatments over a number of weeks, and the results may not be permanent. This treatment is extremely expensive and can only be done by a licensed practitioner.

Medication for Hirsutism

Treatments for hirsutism include oral contraceptives, spironolactone and flutamide. A prescription cream that prevents facial hair growth, called Vaniqa is also available. Studies show that it has helped a lot of women and without any major side effects. A medical practitioner could prescribe a medicine called an anti-androgen to help control the male hormones that cause hirsutism. However, these anti-androgens usually take at least 3 - 6 months to work. They can reduce the amount of new hair growth, but are less likely to change the amount of hair already present.