Hirsutism is a disorder wherein women have too much of unwanted hair on their body and face. These hair are coarse and dark and generally appear where men classically grow hair, on the face, chest & the back.
Some amount of facial and body hair is considered normal. But about 50% of females with hirsutism may have high levels of male sex hormones, the androgens.
Majority of the cases are not severe and aren’t caused as a result of any underlying condition. Although, at times there is a very serious problem, such as ‘Cushing’s Syndrome’. About 8% of adult females in the United States have hirsutism. Sometimes the cause for which is idiopathic/not known.
Signs & symptoms:
The first and foremost symptom of hirsutism is growth of hair on the abdomen, upper lip and breasts (male-pattern hair growth in females). If hirsutism is caused due to high levels of male hormone (androgens), the symptoms also may include:
- Irregular menstrual periods
- Signs of masculinity – male pattern baldness, deepening voice, enlarged shoulder muscles, enlarged clitoris
- Loss of feminine body shape
If Hirsutism is a result of Cushing’s Syndrome, the signs and symptoms are:
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Obesity, particularly around the middle section
- Thinning skin
Approximately 50% women have high levels of male sex hormones, called androgens. These high levels may be a result of the following:
- Tumors on the adrenal glands or ovaries
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which may also result into infertility
- Anabolic steroids
- Danazol (danacrine) used in the treatment of Endometriosis
- Medications which may bew responsible for causing hair to grow, such as minoxidil (Rogaine), phenytoin (Dilantin), cyclosporine and diazoxide (Proglycem)
Sometimes, the cause for hirsutism may be idiopathic/unknown.
- Race and ethnicity – Females of Middle Eastern, European and South Asian ancestry are more likely to develop hirsutism.
- Genetics – Some conditions which may be responsible for causing hirsutism, may be inherited.
The doctor will perform examination on the patient and take a detailed medical history. The doctor may enquire about a patient’s menstrual history, details of medications and family history. The doctor will check for hair growth and may also carry out pelvic examination in order to check for cysts or tumors on the ovaries. After the physical examination, the doctor may ask for the following tests:
- CT scan, MRI, pelvic ultrasound – useful for finding tumors or cysts on the adrenal glands or ovaries
- Blood tests – may reveal high levels of androgen
Preventing hirsutism depends on the cause responsible for it.
- For women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), for example, controlling their weight through diet and exercise may help.
- Studies suggest that obese women with PCOS have minimum chance of developing hirsutism if they eat a low-calorie diet.
The treatment for hirsutism depends on how severe the problem is and whether there is an underlying condition that is causing it.
- For example, if medications are making it worse, the doctor may change medications.
- A tumor on the ovaries or adrenal glands can be removed with the help of surgery.
- Overweight women with hirsutism may wish to cut down on weight so their bodies will make less testosterone.
- If the doctor is unable to find a cause, you can try a combination of self-care and hair-removal techniques.
- Psychological support may also prove to be beneficial since hirsutism is often a exasperating and humiliating condition.
Being overweight may contribute to hirsutism. Eating a balanced diet and getting enough exercise can help control weight.
Nutrition and Dietary Supplements
- Eat antioxidant foods, including fruits (such as blueberries, cherries, and tomatoes) and vegetables (such as squash and bell peppers).
- Avoid refined foods, such as white breads, pastas, and especially sugar.
- Eat fewer red meats and more lean meats, cold-water fish, tofu (soy, if no allergy), or beans for protein.
- Use healthy oils in foods, such as olive oil or vegetable oil.
- Reduce or eliminate trans fat, found in commercially baked goods such as cookies, crackers, cakes, French fries, onion rings, donuts, processed foods, and some margarines.
- Avoid alcohol and tobacco.
- Drink 6 – 8 glasses of filtered water daily.
- Exercise at least 30 minutes daily, five days a week.