HirsutismHirsutism is a very strong hair growth in women, which corresponds more to the male hair pattern. Characteristic features include a "lady's beard" or hair on the chest and back. One cause is too many male sex hormones. Medication can help against this.
At a glance
– Hirsutism is the term used to describe a very large amount of body hair in women. – Frequently, hair grows more frequently on the face – for example, as an upper lip or chin beard – as well as on the back and chest. – Women with hirsutism usually have more male sex hormones in their bodies than women without hirsutism. – The most common cause is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) – a hormonal disorder of the ovaries. – Excessive hair growth can be removed cosmetically, for example by shaving or with light (photoepilation). – Treatment with drugs is also possible, but this takes a longer period of time.
What is hirsutism?
Women with hirsutism have very strong hair growth, which is more like typical male body hair. For example, thick and dark hair grows increasingly on the chin and upper lip, on the upper body or buttocks. In addition, the hair growth under the armpits is. Often pronounced in the genital area – similar to males.
This very strong hair growth can occur after puberty in women whose bodies produce too many male sex hormones. Often certain hormone disorders cause the imbalance.
Hirsutism affects about 5 to 10 percent of all women of reproductive age, i.e. between puberty and menopause.
Treatment depends on how severe the hirsutism is and whether women find it bothersome.
What are the signs of hirsutism?
In women with hirsutism, very strong hair growth occurs especially on the following parts of the body:
– Face, especially on the chin and upper lip ("lady's beard") – Back – Chest – Buttocks
In addition, pubic hair in the genital area often grows up to the upper abdomen or on the inner thighs. Armpit hair sometimes spreads to the inner sides of the upper arms.
If a hormone disorder is the cause of hirsutism, other symptoms may occur such as:
What are the causes of hirsutism?
Women naturally have male sex hormones (androgens) in their bodies, but usually much less than men do.
The amount of androgens influences where what type of hair grows. In boys at puberty, this causes the hair on the face to become thicker and darker, and beard growth to begin. The hair on the rest of the body also changes.
If the amount of androgens in a woman's body increases, this type of body hair typical of men may develop.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is the most common cause of hirsutism, accounting for up to 80 percent of all cases. PCOS is a hormonal disorder of the ovaries that leads to an increased production of androgens and thus to excessive hair growth.
Other causes of hirsutism are less common. These include:
– side effects of medications – taking male hormones (androgen therapy) – hormonal contraception with progestins – hereditary factors such as congenital adrenal hyperplasia: a congenital metabolic disorder in which too little or too much male sex hormone is produced , such as in the kidneys or ovaries, which produce male sex hormones – obesity
In up to 20 percent of women with pronounced hirsutism, no cause can be determined; in women with mild symptoms, the figure is as high as 50 percent.
How to diagnose hirsutism?
A doctor first looks at the typical signs of hirsutism, i.e. excessive body hair, acne or noticeably thinning head hair.
Also, she or he asks:
– Whether menstruation is regular and how regular it is – Whether you have gained weight – What medications you are currently taking
Doctors use the Ferriman-Gallwey score to determine how severe the hirsutism is. To do this, they examine different areas of the body, such as the upper lip, chin, chest, abdomen, back, upper arms, thighs and buttocks.
In addition, a laboratory test can be used to measure the amount of male sex hormones in the blood.
How is hirsutism treated?
In the case of mild hirsutism, treatment – from a purely medical point of view – is usually not necessary. Whether or not excessive hair growth is a problem is an individual decision. Many women feel more comfortable with removing the hair.
For hair removal, there are products and methods that you can use yourself, for example:
– bleaching creams with hydrogen peroxide ("bleaching") – depilatory creams – shaving – waxing – plucking, either with tweezers or an electric epilator
In these cosmetic procedures, the hair grows back after a certain period of time because the hair roots remain intact. In addition, it is possible that skin irritation may occur during application.
In order to have the hair removed permanently and properly, you can consult a specialist doctor. There are two possible methods: photoepilation and electrolysis.
Photoepilation damages hair follicles with the help of light, electrolysis with electricity. In both cases, the hair grows back less or not at all.
In women with very pronounced hirsutism, the hair often comes back anyway. In this case, additional medication can help.
Hormonal contraceptives with estrogen and progestin, such as the birth control pill, can reduce the amount of male sex hormones in the body. However, they are naturally only suitable for women who do not currently wish to become pregnant. Other drugs inhibit the absorption of androgens in the body.
Women with hirsutism are recommended to take the medication for at least 6 months. Only then does it become clear whether the treatment is effective or not. Excessive hair growth can vary greatly in severity. Is not necessarily perceived as disturbing. Women suffering from this can seek specialist advice on whether treatment is appropriate and, if so, what treatment should be used.
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