Excess hair growth in women is usually associated with an underlying endocrine disorder. A new paper to be published in The Obstetrician & Gynaecologist (TOG) examines causes of this condition, known as hirsutism, and explores a range of possible treatments.
Hirsutism involves the growth of coarse hair in females in a male-like pattern. It is a distressing condition that affects 5-15% of women. It can be particularly upsetting for young women undergoing the emotional and psychosocial upheaval of adulthood.
The authors explain that Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is the most common cause, and 70-80% of women with hirsutism suffer from PCOS. Other possible causes include androgen-secreting tumours, adrenal hyperplasia, and thyroid dysfunction. In some cases, the use of certain drugs can lead to excess hair growth.
Depending on the cause, there are a number of ways to manage this condition. The authors recommend lifestyle changes, as well as cosmetic, physical and medical treatments. Weight loss and hormonal therapy, such as the oral contraceptive pill, have both been shown to reduce excess hair growth.
The authors stress that women should use effective contraception while using certain drug treatments. Some anti-androgen drugs, such as finasteride, have been linked to serious birth defects.
Co-author, Dr. Rebecca Swingler, from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at St-Michael’s Hospital in Bristol, said “Hirsutism is a common and often distressing condition.
“Treatment depends upon the cause but combines lifestyle changes and cosmetic, physical and medical treatment. Hormone treatments can be successful but take 9–12 months to have their maximum effect.”
Jason Waugh, acting editor-in-chief of TOG, said “Hirsutism can be particularly difficult for young women. Women with concerns about excess hair growth should speak to their doctor in order to screen for any medical problems and to learn about management strategies.
“Health providers also have a role to play in providing information and in ensuring that women on anti-androgen drugs are using contraception.”
The Obstetrician & Gynaecologist (TOG) is published quarterly and is the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ (RCOG) medical journal for continuing professional development. TOG is an editorially independent, peer reviewed journal aimed at providing health professions with updated information about scientific, medical and clinical developments in the specialty of obstetrics and gynaecology.
Swingler, R, Awala A, Gordon U. Hirsutism in young women. The Obstetrician & Gynaecologist 2009; 11:101-7.