Women suffering from hirsutism -- excessive, male-pattern hair growth -- can experience societal discomfort and even ostracism. There are many treatment and living options to consider, and many of these are more effective than ever before, so that no one has uncomfortable with the condition.
Types of Hirsutism
There are two types of this condition: hormonal (androgen-dependent) and drug-induced. The hormonal form results from an overproduction of androgens, the hormones responsible for masculine attributes. When this happens, the result can be an excessive and/or rapid growth of hair on the face, neck, extremities, breasts, pubic area, lower back and inner thighs. The hair tends to be coarse, long and pigmented.
Specific causes are rarely identified, only that it tends to run in families. One common cause is polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Generally, the problem is physically harmless, although often embarrassing. However, if excess hair develops suddenly and is accompanied by additional symptoms of hormonal abnormality, like acne, a deepening of the voice, increased muscle mass or breast shrinkage, it can be more serious. This can indicate a tumor or cancer of the adrenal gland or ovary or other disorder and should be assessed by a doctor immediately.
Drug-induced hirsutism is the result of taking medications that can have an effect on hormones. DHEAs, anabolic steroids, danazol, glucocorticoids, androgenic progestin and some other drugs can all cause excessive hair growth. Your doctor should discuss this possibility with you when the drug is prescribed.
Hair Growth and Severe Weight Issues
Hirsutism can be a result of either extreme weight loss or gain. Anorexic girls often grow excess body hair, which is the body's attempt to keep warm when there is no longer any natural fat to do that job. This hair will fall out when weight is normalized.
Likewise, a sudden extreme weight gain can create, or be the result of, a hormonal imbalance. Losing that weight can decrease the amount of male hormones and reduce the hair growth.
Removing Excess Hair With Drugs
There are three types of drugs that will reduce excess hair growth: androgen receptor blockers, androgen suppressants (these include birth control pills) and 5 alpha-reductase inhibitors. Your doctor will determine which is best for you, depending on your overall health and the severity of your condition. Most of the drugs will have side effects, the most serious of which could be impaired liver function, although this is not common. Again, your doctor will discuss possible problems with each drug. The hair will gradually fall out, sometimes after as long as six months. If you want to pursue electrolysis or laser hair removal, it's advised you wait until you've been on the drugs for at least six months.
Physical Methods of Hair Removal
All the usual forms of body hair maintenance women use regularly can be used in the treatment of hirsutism, such as bleaching, shaving, waxing or hair removal creams. While these methods are less expensive, they are also less effective. A hirsute woman may have to shave twice a day to keep the hair under control.
More expensive, but considerably more effective, are electrolysis and laser hair removal. Since electrolysis is so much slower, although a proven permanent hair removal system, it can be better for targeted areas, like the face, while a series of laser hair removal treatments can be best for large areas like the lower back and thighs.
Natural Methods of Reducing Hair Growth
Although not proven, there is evidence to suggest that hirsutism caused by PCOS will respond to a healthier diet and exercise program. The idea is to try and reduce the excess insulin that contributes to increased androgen production and restore your normal menstrual cycle. A diet rich in omega-3 fats, protein and complex carbohydrates can all reduce problematic insulin and thus excess hair. You should also make sure you're getting a proper amount of vitamin B6, vitamin E, chromium, magnesium, zinc and copper.
Above all, don't despair. Excess hair can be uncomfortable to deal with, but it is manageable and should not control your life or determine your happiness.