Hirsutism is excessive hair growth in certain areas of the body. It's a problem that mainly affects women.

It's relatively common,although some women may find it embarrassing or distressing to live with.

It's often a long-term problem, but there are a number of treatments that can help keep it under control.

This page covers:

Symptoms of hirsutism

When to see your GP

Treatments for hirsutism

Causes of hirsutism

Symptoms of hirsutism

The excessive hair in hirsutismis usually thick and dark, rather than fine and fair.

It develops in areas where men often have hair, such as the:

  • face
  • neck
  • chest
  • tummy
  • lower back
  • buttocks
  • thighs

You may also have some additional symptoms, such as oily skin, Blackheads , a deep voice, irregular periods or no periods at all .

When to see your GP

It's a good idea to see your GP if you have hirsutism. They can look for any underlying cause and advise you about the treatments available.

Your GP may:

  • examine the areas of excess hair growth
  • ask about any other symptoms
  • ask about your medical history, such as whether you're taking any medication
  • carry out a blood test to check your hormone levels

Depending on what your GP thinks may be causing your symptoms, they may treat you themselves or you may be referred toa specialist.

Treatments for hirsutism

Treatment for hirsutismusually involves techniques to remove the excess hair and treatment to help slow its growth or stop it coming back.

The main treatments are:

  • home hair removal methods such as shaving, plucking or waxing
  • specialist hair removal treatments such as laser hair removal
  • eflornithine cream a prescription cream that can help slow down the growth of facial hair
  • oral contraceptives, including co-cyprindiol tablets a type of contraceptive pill available on prescription that can help prevent excess hair growth

It may take a few months to notice the effects of treatment, so it's important to persist withit. Inmany cases,treatment will need to be continued indefinitely.

Causes of hirsutism

Hirsutism is caused by anexcessof male hormones called androgens in your body, or byyour body being more sensitive to these hormones.

In many cases, it's not clear why this happens. Some women just seem to develop extra hair growth as they get older, particularly after the menopause .

In younger women, the most common cause is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) ,a condition that can cause irregular periods and fluid-filled sacs (cysts) on the ovaries.

Less commoncauses of hirsutism include:

  • Cushing's syndrome a hormonal disorder that causes sudden weight gain and bloating around the face and neck
  • congenital adrenal hyperplasia an inherited condition affecting the adrenal glands, the glands above the kidneys that produce hormones
  • obesity losing weight may help improvethe symptomsin these cases
  • acromegaly aconditionin which the body produces too much growth hormone
  • medicines such as anabolic steroids ,used by some people to build muscle and improve athletic performance
  • a tumour (growth) thatincreases the production of androgens and usually affects the ovaries or adrenal glands

Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 29 Nov 2016