What is Hirsutism?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
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  • Last Modified Date: 13 July 2019
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Hirsutism is a condition that causes excess hair growth of terminal hairs (darker and coarser) on the body. It can occur in both women and men, but it is usually not problematic for men because cultural expectation is that men will have a considerable amount of more noticeable body hair than women. For women, hirsutism may become an issue, especially in western cultures, where women are usually viewed as needing to not have extra body hair on the face, chest or in the groin area in order to be considered attractive.

It’s important to understand normal hair growth to understand hirsutism. Women and men actually have approximately the same amount of hair on their bodies, but hair on the face, and chest is typically much finer in women, except for on the brows and the head. Sometimes women, when exposed to androgens (male hormones produced by the body), will respond by creating more terminal hair, especially as they reach their teens and as they age. Some terminal hair growth on the face is expected in all women as they age, particularly as they reach menopause, but the condition may happen much sooner and be more extensive in some women long before menopause.


The causes of hirsutism are varied. Women with conditions like polycystic ovarian disease are more at risk. Sometimes women of certain races are more prone to have this condition. Use of anabolic steroids elevates risk for excess terminal hair growth and other drugs like prednisone or birth control pills can occasionally result in hirsutism. Some women have higher levels of male hormones naturally. Alternately, conditions like Cushing syndrome or congenital adrenal hyperplasia produce excess cortisol and androgens and may affect terminal hair growth.

Doctors may want to evaluate hormone levels prior to determining medical treatment for hirsutism. Since it can occasionally indicate serious hormone malfunction, it can be important to look for cause. On the other hand if this is a common racial attribute, or if a woman has many family members with more terminal hair on the face, medical investigation might not be deemed necessary.

There are numerous ways to tackle the symptoms of hirsutism. Underlying hormonal balance issues could be addressed with medications, which might resolve the problem. Various medications that can be taken orally may help reduce terminal hair growth. Alternately, some medicines exist that are applied topically.

Some women prefer not to use medications and instead resort to waxing, tweezing or shaving to combat excess hair. Shaving is fine and won’t cause more terminal hair to grow. More permanent hair removal methods, like laser hair removal, can be tried too. The degree to which women are interested in treatment usually depends on cultural beliefs about terminal hair growth on women. In some cultures, a certain amount of thicker hair on the face is acceptable and doesn’t interfere with a woman being considered attractive.



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