Hirsutism: Everything You Need to Know About Excessive Hair Growth

Medically Reviewed By Marina Basina, M.D.
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Hirsutism is when females have excessive hair growth on their face and body. It is most commonly due to polycystic ovarian syndrome. This article will define hirsutism. It will also discuss the symptoms, causes, and treatments of the condition.

What is hirsutism?

Female looking in the mirror
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Hirsutism is a condition seen in females and appears as excessive growth of coarse, dark hair on areas of the body where it would not typically grow.

Hirsutism is typically found either in one area or multiple areas of the body.

These areas include:

  • face
  • abdomen
  • chest
  • upper back
  • inner thighs

The hair growth from hirsutism is often the result of high levels of the hormone androgens. One of the most common causes of elevated androgen levels that lead to hirsutism is polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is a condition that involves an imbalance of hormones in the body that affects the ovaries and causes many other symptoms.

Hirsutism can often lead to self-esteem issues in those who experience it. These self-esteem issues can also cause anxiety and depression.

Hirsutism is not preventable. However, there are treatments available.

What are the symptoms of hirsutism?

The main symptom of hirsutism is excessive hair growth on the face and body. There are other symptoms that you may experience depending on the underlying cause of your hirsutism.

These symptoms include:

  • acne
  • irregular menstrual cycles
  • deepening of your voice
  • increase in muscle mass
  • decrease in breast size

What causes hirsutism?

There are many possible causes of hirsutism, including PCOS.

Polycystic ovarian syndrome

PCOS is the most common cause of hirsutism in people assigned female at birth. Around 70–80% of females with hirsutism have PCOS.

PCOS is a condition that affects 6–12% of females in the United States of childbearing age. However, it is a chronic and lifelong condition that affects those with it long after their childbearing years.

The symptoms of PCOS typically become apparent in your teens or early 20s.

The symptoms include:

There is no cure for PCOS. However, many symptoms are treatable with medications and lifestyle changes. These lifestyle changes can include adopting a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and maintaining a healthy weight.

Click here to read more about how PCOS affects fertility.

Other causes

While PCOS is the most common cause of hirsutism, there are many other possible causes.

These causes include:

  • Genetics: Hirsutism often runs in families.
  • Ethnicity: Females of certain descent, such as Middle Eastern, South Asian, and Mediterranean, are more likely to experience hirsutism.
  • Cushing’s syndrome: This condition results from long-term exposure to cortisol.
  • Tumors: Tumors found in your ovaries or adrenal glands can affect your hormone levels.
  • Medications: Certain medications like anabolic steroids, hormones, and medications used to treat endometriosis can cause hirsutism.
  • Hair follicles: For unknown reasons, the hair follicles in some people are more sensitive to androgen hormones.

How do doctors diagnose hirsutism?

If you believe you are experiencing hirsutism, talking with your doctor is a good idea. They will most likely want to run tests to check for underlying conditions that can cause excessive hair growth.

Typically, your doctor will want to perform a physical exam and check your medical history.

They may also choose to order blood tests to check your hormone levels. If your levels are high, they will most likely order scans like an ultrasound or a CT scan.

What are treatments for hirsutism?

Your doctor may recommend treating your hirsutism with medication.

These medications include:

  • antiandrogens
  • birth control pills
  • topical creams

There are also ways you can treat your hirsutism yourself, such as:

  • maintaining a healthy weight can help to balance your hormone levels
  • shaving
  • tweezing or waxing
  • bleaching
  • over-the-counter topical creams, lotions, and gels

Longer-term hair removal options are available as well. These options include electrolysis and laser hair removal.

The overall treatment of hirsutism may depend on the underlying cause.

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Hirsutism is a condition that causes excessive hair growth on the face and body in females.

It is typically due to high levels of androgen hormones, and the most common cause is PCOS.

Hirsutism can cause self-esteem issues in those who develop it. However, it is typically treatable through medication or at-home treatment.

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Medical Reviewer: Marina Basina, M.D.
Last Review Date: 2022 May 12
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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