Excessive or unwanted hair in women
Most of the time, women have fine hair above the lips and on the chin, chest, abdomen, or back. The growth of coarse dark hairs in these areas (more typical of male-pattern hair growth) is called hirsutism.
Hypertrichosis; Hirsutism; Hair - excessive (women); Excessive hair in women; Hair - women - excessive or unwanted
Women normally produce low levels of male hormones (androgens). If your body makes too much of this hormone, you may have unwanted hair growth.
In most cases, the exact cause is never known. The condition often runs in families.
A common cause of hirsutism is polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Women with PCOS and other hormone conditions that cause unwanted hair growth may also have acne, problems with menstrual periods, trouble losing weight, and diabetes. If these symptoms start suddenly, you may have a tumor that releases male hormones.
Other, rare causes of unwanted hair growth may include:
Rarely a woman with hirsutism will have normal levels of male hormones, and the specific cause of the unwanted hair growth cannot be identified.
The main symptom of this condition is the presence of coarse dark hairs in areas that are sensitive to male hormones. These areas include:
Exams and Tests
Hirsutism is generally a long-term problem. There are many ways to remove or treat unwanted hair. Some treatment effects last longer than others.
Temporary options include:
For women who are overweight, weight loss may be able to reduce hair growth.
Hair follicles grow for about 6 months before falling out. Therefore, it takes many months of taking medicine before you will notice a decrease in hair growth.
Many women get good results with temporary steps to remove hair or lighten it.
Most of the time hirsutism does not cause health problems. But many women find it bothersome or embarrassing.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if:
Camacho-Martinez FM. Hypertrichosis and hirsuitism. In: Bolognia JL, Jorizzo JL, Schaffer JV, et al, eds. Dermatology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2012:chap 70.
Bulun SE. Physiology and pathology of the female reproductive axis. In: Kronenberg HM, Melmed S, Polonsky KS, Larsen PR, eds. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 12th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 17.
Habif TP. Hair diseases. In: Habif TP, ed. Clinical Dermatology. 5th ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 24.
Review Date: 11/10/2013
Reviewed By: Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Bellevue, Washington; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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