Hirsutism

Hirsutism is a growth of thick coarse hairs on the face, chest, abdomen, back, arms, and legs of women. It is sometimes associated with hormonal excess of androgens, hormones made by the adrenal gland and the pituitary gland. They may be elevated under a variety of medical conditions.

Other women may have normal androgen levels but increased sensitivity of their hair follicles. This is particularly common in women from certain ethnic backgrounds, such as Mediterranean. Your physician can perform correct laboratory studies and determine if any other gynecologic problems may explain the abnormal hair growth.

If there are associated gynecologic problems, such as irregular bleeding and/or infertility, the diagnosis is often polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). The treatment of abnormal hair and bleeding pattern in infertility may be undertaken at the same time, or your physician will discuss which condition takes priority.

It is important to rule out other causes for abnormal hair growth, such as an abnormal adrenal gland, insulin resistance, or certain medications. Depending on hormone levels and medical history, a variety of blood tests and imaging studies may be necessary.

Treatment of hirsutism depends on the cause. In some cases, hormonal intervention or fertility treatment may be helpful. Suppression of the ovaries with hormonal contraception may also be appropriate. There are several agents that diminish the androgen levels or diminish the sensitivity of the hair follicles to the androgen levels. Treatment such as electrolysis, laser, or depilatories can be used in association with these medical treatments, and psychological support can be helpful as well.