The normal amount of body hair for women varies. Most of the time, a woman only has fine hair, or peach fuzz, above the lips and on the chin, chest, abdomen, or back. If you have coarse, dark hairs in these areas, the condition is called hirsutism. Such hair growth is more typical of men.
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 identified. It tends to run in families. In general, hirsutism is a harmless condition. But many women find it bothersome, or even embarrassing.
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.
Hirsutism is generally a long-term problem. There are a number of ways to remove or treat unwanted hair. Some treatment effects last longer than others.
Temporary hair removal options include:
Permanent hair removal options include:
Electrolysis uses electrical current to permanently damage individual hair follicles so they do not grow back. This method is expensive, and multiple treatments are needed. Swelling, scarring, and redness of the skin may occur.
Laser hair removal uses laser aimed at the dark color (melanin) in the hairs. This method is best if a very large area needs to be treated and only if the hair is particularly dark (does not work on blond or red hair).
Call your health care provider if:
Your health care provider will perform a physical examination. A pelvic exam may be done. You will be asked questions about your medical history and symptoms, including:
Blood tests may be done, including:
If a tumor is suspected, x-ray tests such as a CT scan or ultrasound may be recommended.
Medications or other treatments your doctor may prescribe include:
Hypertrichosis; Hirsutism; Hair - excessive (women); Excessive hair in women; Hair - women - excessive or unwanted
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.
Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine., 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, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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