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What Is Hirsutism?

Excessive growth of facial or body hair in women is called hirsutism. The condition usually develops during puberty and becomes more pronounced as the years go by. However, an inherited tendency, over-production of male hormones (androgens), medication, or disease, can cause it to appear at any age.

Idiopathic hirsutism is probably hereditary, because there is usually a family history of the disorder. Women with idiopathic hirsutism have normal menstrual cycles and no evidence of any of the conditions associated with secondary hirsutism.

Secondary hirsutism is most often associated with polycystic ovary syndrome (an inherited hormonal disorder characterized by menstrual irregularities and biochemical abnormalities). This type of hirsutism may also be caused by Cushing’s disease, a condition that influences hormone levels in the pituitary gland, can be a contributing factor in some women, while obesity can be to blame, too. This is because a lot of fat cells make the female hormone estrogen, and if the body registers it has too much it produces more male hormones in response, resulting in unwanted extra hair.

If your periods are always regular and the hirsutism is fairly mild, there probably isn’t a medical cause for concern. But if you have an irregular cycle and notice changes in hair growth, your GP can run blood tests to check the levels of hormones and insulin in the body, and may suggest an ultrasound scan of your ovaries to check they’re healthy. It’s worth bearing in mind that hair appearing around menopause will be due to natural hormone changes. Allow a couple of months for this to settle before deciding how to treat the issue.

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