What is Hirsutism?

Hirsutism is a condition that occurs in women and is characterized by unwanted body hair in the male-pattern form. The condition causes an excessive amount of body hair that appears in areas on women’s bodies where men usually grow body hair such as the back, chest, and face. It is estimated that about one in twenty women in the United States has hirsutism.


Why do men and women have different amounts of body hair? The amount of body hair we have is a result of our genetics. Women may develop hirsutism as a result of an excess production of androgens, which are more commonly known as testosterone. Testosterone is a male hormone. Some women may also develop hirsutism as a result of the condition running in the family.

When women develop hirsutism, it produces an excess amount of hair that appears stiff and pigmented. This hair typically appears on areas where hair is unwanted and where women do not normally have hair. When hirsutism is caused by an excessive amount of androgens, there are other signs and symptoms besides hair that may develop over time. This is called virilization. The signs and symptoms of virilization may include a deepening voice, balding, acne, a decrease in breast size, and an enlargement of the clitoris.

What causes hirsutism? When a girl starts puberty, her ovaries begin to produce a combination of female and male sex hormones. As a result, hair begins to grow in areas such as the armpits and pubic region. This is normal. However, if the combination of female and male sex hormones become unbalanced, meaning there is an excess production of the male sex hormones (androgens, testosterone), this can cause hirsutism. But what can cause the unbalanced amount of sex hormones or excess production of male sex hormones that causes hirsutism? Hirsutism may be caused by one of the following conditions:

·         Polycystic ovary syndrome. Caused by an imbalance of sex hormones that may result in irregular periods, obesity, infertility and sometimes multiple cysts on your ovaries.

·         Cushing's syndrome. Occurs when the adrenal glands produce too much cortisol.

·         Congenital adrenal hyperplasia. Occurs when the adrenal glands produce an abnormal amount of cortisol and androgen.

·         Tumors. A tumor that secretes androgens in the ovaries or adrenal glands may cause hirsutism.

·         Medications. Some medications can cause hirsutism such as Danazol, which is used to treat women with endometriosis.