Hirsutism refers to excessive male-pattern growth of dark or coarse hair in women. In hirsutism, excess hair growth is caused by elevated levels of androgens, also known as male hormones. Both men and women produce androgens, however, elevated levels can have negative health effects in women.
Here at Burlington Medical Center, endocrinologist and internal medicine physician Sam Morayati, MD, specializes in diagnosing and managing a broad range of health conditions, including hormonal imbalance. Hirsutism can be a sign of an underlying metabolic disorder. Here's what to know about hirsutism and the primary risk factors.
Hirsutism often causes women to develop dark coarse hair on the chin, chest, back, upper lip, and abdomen. This is referred to as male pattern hair growth. While this condition isn't life-threatening, it can be a sign of an underlying issue that deserves evaluation.
There are several conditions that influence your hormones and can cause hirsutism.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal condition that causes women to produce too many androgens. Women with PCOS tend to develop acne, as well as male pattern hair growth. In addition, they may experience other symptoms such as weight gain and fertility problems.
The ovaries wind down their production of hormones as you get older and when this happens the hormonal changes that occur can lead to abnormal hair growth on the face and other areas.
Cortisol is a stress hormone that has many effects on the body. Persistently high levels of cortisol can cause excess hair growth in women. Very high levels of cortisol may be an indicator of an underlying endocrine disorder.
Dr. Morayati will perform a physical examination to check for abnormal hair growth, as well as other signs that may indicate excess androgens, such as acne. Dr. Morayati may perform related blood tests to check your hormone levels and may perform an ultrasound to check your ovaries and uterus. Additionally, Dr. Morayati may evaluate your adrenal glands in order to rule out endocrine disorders.
Hirsutism risk factors
In many cases, the cause of hirsutism is unknown. However, there are risk factors that can influence the chances of developing it. Many women with hirsutism are overweight. Carrying excess weight increases androgen production, thus increasing the risk for hirsutism. Additionally, family history appears to play a role in the development of hirsutism. If you have a close relative with hirsutism, you're more likely to develop it as well.
Treating hirsutism depends on whether an underlying cause is found. If an underlying endocrine disorder is detected, Dr. Morayati will discuss appropriate treatment. Otherwise, there are various approaches to reduce excess hair growth.
Medications such as oral contraceptives, drugs that block androgens, and topical creams are commonly used to slow hair growth. Permanent hair removal through laser therapy is also beneficial.
If you’re struggling with excess hair growth that is causing you distress, reach out to our office for a comprehensive workup. Call 336-310-1390 to speak with one of our helpful team members to schedule an appointment with Dr. Morayati.