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Hirsutism is the clinical term used to describe excessive hair growth in women, especially on the face. This hair is usually dark and thick as opposed to fair and fine and as well as on the face, it can appear in the areas which men tend to have extra hair including:
The condition is often associated with other symptoms such as:
In the majority of cases, the problem is a sign of a hormonal imbalance; specifically, hirsutism is normally caused by excessive levels of male hormones known as androgens, or by increased sensitivity to these hormones.
Often in younger women polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which is caused by an imbalance of sex hormones, is the root cause of hirsutism.
Other possible triggers include:
For approximately one in ten women though, there is no obvious reason for their hirsutism; though there is evidence to suggest that it can sometimes run in families, especially in women with Middle Eastern, South Asian and Mediterranean ancestry.
According to the British Skin Foundation, around 10% of women in the Western world are diagnosed with hirsutism so if a woman feels she is suffering from excessive hair on her face or body then she may look to get a diagnosis. Blood tests can be performed which measure hormone levels in the blood such as testosterone or testosterone-like hormones. This can help to establish raised levels of androgen which is what causes hirsutism, and determine whether or not this is contributing to the excessive hair.
If levels come back raised then an ultrasound, CT scan and/or a physical examination of the abdomen and pelvis can check the ovaries and adrenal glands for cysts and/or tumours.
Although it does not pose a medical risk, hirsutism can be highly distressing to the women who suffer from it. Often, it makes them feel self-conscious about their appearance and it can have a negative impact on many aspects of their lives, affecting everything from their mental health and relationships, to getting ahead at work and finding clothes they feel comfortable to wear.
There are a number of treatments a woman can try when suffering from hirsutism including oral contraceptives and anti-androgens. There are also procedures to help remove unwanted hair permanently including electrolysis and laser therapy, though these are expensive and take a long time to complete the full course of hair removal.
There are other effective and more easily accessible hair removal techniques on offer. For example, many people with hirsutism shave, wax, pluck or bleach the hair on the affected parts and in addition, the topical treatment Vaniqa can be used to stop facial hair from growing.
The active ingredient in this prescription-only medication is eflornithine which, when applied as a cream, penetrates to the roots of the hair and acts on an enzyme that plays a role in growth. Results can be seen as early as eight weeks into the treatment, but it may take four to six months to witness the full benefits. Note that this treatment is only licensed for use on the face, and while the medicine can cause hair growth to slow and lead to an improved appearance, it does not represent a cure for hirsutism.
It may be best not to remove your hair prior to consulting your GP as it may allow the doctor to assess your condition more accurately. Once you have been diagnosed with hirsutism you can begin to use Vaniqa, but only once you have completed a medical questionnaire to be assessed by one of our doctors. You can also get additional information on this topic by speaking to your doctor.
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