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Excessive or unwanted hair in women

Hypertrichosis; Hirsutism; Hair - excessive (women); Excessive hair in women; Hair - women - excessive or unwanted

Most of the time, women have fine hair above their lips and on their chin, chest, abdomen, or back. The growth of coarse dark hair in these areas (more typical of male-pattern hair growth) is called hirsutism.

Causes

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 known. The condition often runs in families.

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:

If these symptoms start suddenly, you may have a tumor that releases male hormones.

Other, rare causes of unwanted hair growth may include:

Use of certain medicines may also be the cause of unwanted hair growth, including:

Female body builders may take male hormones (anabolic steroids), which may result in excessive hair growth.

In rare cases, women with hirsutism have normal levels of male hormones, and the specific cause of the unwanted hair growth cannot be identified.

Symptoms

The main symptom of this condition is the presence of coarse dark hair in areas that are sensitive to male hormones. These areas include:

Exams and Tests

Your health care provider will examine you and ask about your symptoms.

Tests that may be done may include any of the following:

Treatment

Hirsutism is generally a long-term problem. There are many ways to remove or treat unwanted hair. Some treatment effects last longer than others.

Temporary options include:

For women who are overweight, weight loss may be able to help reduce hair growth.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Hair follicles grow for about 6 months before falling out. Therefore, it takes many months of taking medicine before you will notice a decrease in hair growth.

Many women get good results with temporary steps to remove hair or lighten it.

Possible Complications

Most of the time, hirsutism does not cause health problems. But many women find it bothersome or embarrassing.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider if you have any of the following:

References

Bulun SE. Physiology and pathology of the female reproductive axis. In: Melmed S, Auchus RJ, Goldfine AB, Koenig RJ, Rosen CJ, eds. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 14th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 17.

Habif TP. Hair diseases. In: Habif TP, ed. Clinical Dermatology: A Color Guide to Diagnosis and Therapy. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 24.

Rosenfield RL, Barnes RB, Ehrmann DA. Hyperandrogenism, hirsutism, and polycystic ovary syndrome. In: Jameson JL, De Groot LJ, de Kretser DM, et al, eds. Endocrinology: Adult and Pediatric. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 133.

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Review Date: 9/20/2019  

Reviewed By: John D. Jacobson, MD, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Loma Linda University School of Medicine, Loma Linda Center for Fertility, Loma Linda, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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