Hirsutism causes excessive, unwanted hair growth. While hirsutism can be a source of embarrassment for some women, it is important to remember that it is a medical condition that can be treated. Let’s find out what hirsutism is, and what the potential causes of excessive hair growth are.
What is Hirsutism?
Hirsutism is a medical condition in which women experience excessive hair growth in areas of the body where hair is normally minimal, such as the face, chest, and back. The unwanted hair is often stiff, coarse and dark. It may also appear on the neck, tummy, bottom or thighs. If you have unwanted hair that is finer and lighter, it is unlikely that you are suffering from hirsutism. It is quite a common condition, with between 5% and 10% of women affected. To diagnose hirsutism, a doctor will examine your body hair and may do a blood test to confirm.
What Causes Excessive Hair Growth?
There are several factors that can contribute to the development of hirsutism, including hormonal imbalances, medications, and genetics. Treating the underlying condition can often improve the symptoms.
Hirsutism is often caused by hormonal imbalances, particularly an excess of androgen hormones. Androgens are typically considered male hormones, but women produce them in smaller amounts as well. When there is an excess of androgens in the body, it can lead to increased hair growth in areas of the body where hair is normally minimal. The most common hormonal imbalance that leads to hirsutism is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a condition in which the ovaries produce excess androgens. PCOS is the cause of excessive hair growth in up to 70% of cases.
Some medications are also causes of excessive hair growth as a side effect. These include certain hormonal medications, such as steroids, contraceptive pills, and hormone replacement therapy. Some medications, such as those used to treat high blood pressure, may also specifically spur hair growth These medications can disrupt the normal balance of hormones in the body, as described above, and lead to excessive hair growth.
Genetics are also potential causes. If a woman has a family history of hirsutism, she may be more likely to develop the condition herself. This is because certain genetic factors can affect hormone levels and lead to excessive hair growth.
Other Medical Conditions
More rarely, medical conditions such as Cushing syndrome, and tumours in the adrenal glands or ovaries are causes of excessive hair growth. Cushing syndrome occurs when there are constant, high levels of cortisol in the body. An excess of the cortisol hormone stimulates other hormones that can produce and release excessive androgen. Tumours are also potential causes of excessive hair growth as they also affect levels of androgen in the body.