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Excessive or unwanted hair in women

Definition

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

Alternative Names

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

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:

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:

References

Bolognia JL, Schaffer JV, Duncan KO, Ko CJ. Hypertrichosis and hirsutism. In: Bolognia JL, Schaffer JV, Duncan KO, Ko CJ, eds. Dermatology Essentials. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 57.

Bulun SE. Physiology and pathology of the female reproductive axis. In: Melmed S, Polonsky KS, Larsen PR, Kronenberg HM, eds. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 13th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016: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.


Review Date: 10/8/2017
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.