Hirsutism is excess male-pattern hair growth in women. The coarse, dark hair can occur in areas such as the face, chest, and back.
True hirsutism is often due to an increased level of a male sex hormone called androgen. The main circulating androgen is called testosterone. This hormone is normally found in both men and women. There are certain medical conditions or medications that may cause an elevation in the levels of this hormone in women.
The most common cause of hirsutism is polycystic ovary syndrome . Sometimes the cause is unknown, Other less common include:
- Congenital adrenal hyperplasia
- Some forms of Cushing syndrome
- Adrenal tumors
- Ovarian tumors
- Pituitary tumors
Certain medications, including:
- Anabolic steroids
- Progestin-containing medications (such as oral contraceptives)
Sometimes excess hair growth is due to the person's ethnic background or family tendencies.
Presents as excess hair growth on the face, arms, back, armpits, groin, or chest. Symptoms and signs of some disorders associated with hirsutism may include:
- Abnormal or absent menstrual periods
- Male-pattern baldness
- Deepened voice
- Increased size of clitoris
- High blood pressure
- Increased muscle mass
- Enlarged ovaries
- Enlarged adrenal glands
- Abnormal cholesterol levels and glucose intolerance
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You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The diagnosis is made by the distribution and degree of hair growth.
Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with blood tests.
Images may be taken of your brain or abdomen if tumors are suspected. This can be done with:
Treatment is directed at hair removal, reducing hair growth, and the underlying cause of the hirsutism.
Methods of removing hair include:
- Chemical treatment (depilatories)
- Laser treatment
- Intense pulsed light (IPL)—uses high-intensity pulses of light to remove hair; unlike laser treatment, IPL uses a range of wavelengths
Medications that may help reduce hair growth include:
- Oral contraceptives
Treatment of Other Conditions
If you are diagnosed with a condition that may be causing hirsutism, proper treatment may resolve the hirsutism. Weight loss may also play a role in reducing underlying hormonal imbalances.
American Osteopathic College of Dermatology http://www.aocd.org
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians https://www.familydoctor.org
Canadian Dermatology Association https://www.dermatology.ca
Health Canada https://www.canada.ca
Hirsutism. American Osteopathic College of Dermatology website. Available at: http://www.aocd.org/?page=Hirsutism. Accessed December 20, 2017.
Hirsutism. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/condition/hirsutism. Updated March 2014. Accessed December 20, 2017.
Hirsutism. UCLA Health website. Available at: http://obgyn.ucla.edu/hirsutism. Accessed December 20, 2017.
Hirsutism and virilization. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115173/Hirsutism-and-virilization . Updated July 7, 2015. Accessed December 20, 2017.
11/1/2007 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115173/Hirsutism-and-virilization : Hamzavi I, Tan E, Shapiro J, Lui H. A randomized bilateral vehicle-controlled study of eflornithine cream combined with laser treatment versus laser treatment alone for facial hirsutism in women. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2007;57(1):54-59.
9/2/2010 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115173/Hirsutism-and-virilization : Haak CS, Nymann P, Pedersen AT, et al. Hair removal in hirsute women with normal testosterone levels: a randomized controlled trial of long-pulsed diode laser versus intense pulsed light. Br J Dermatol. 2010;163(5):1007-1013.
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
- Review Date: 11/2018
- Update Date: 12/20/2014