Have you been noticing excess hair growing on you arms, face, or back? Are your periods irregular and infrequent? If so, you may be suffering from a condition known as hirsutism. Though you may find it embarrassing, it is important to be treated if you have hirsutism. Hirsutism can affect your chances of becoming pregnant, and may indicate further reproductive complications.
What is Hirsutism?
Hirsutism is a condition, which causes you to develop excess hair on your face, neck, arms, chest and the rest of your body. It is also associated with a variety of other symptoms, such as irregular ovulation leading to infertility. Hirsutism is fairly common, affecting more than 1 in 6 men and women in the United States. It usually onsets between the ages of 12 and 16 and typically develops at a slow, but steady rate throughout the 20s. Some people may experience a later onset of the condition, as well as rapid development of symptoms.
Unfortunately, this condition often causes serious emotional side effects for the sufferer, particularly for women. In today's society, women are often taught that they should be "hair-free" in order to be considered beautiful and attractive. As a result, many women with hirsutism live in shame. Hirsutism can also threaten a woman's reproductive capabilities, which can cause even more emotional damage.
Symptoms of Hirsutism
The most noticeable symptom of hirsutism is hair growth. This is particularly noticeable in women affected by the condition. If you have hirsutism, you may begin to notice thick, dark hair growing on your chest, abdomen, or even your breasts. This hair is usually fine, and very similar to peach fuzz or baby hair.
Hair growth is not the only symptom of hirsutism. Other symptoms include:
- irregular menstrual periods
- amenorrhea (absence of menstrual periods)
- deepening voice
- enlarged muscles
- loss of feminine shape
Cause of Hirsutism
Hirsutism is usually caused by irregular levels of the hormones in your body. In particular, abnormally high levels of male hormones called androgens (including testosterone and androstenedione) cause the growth of excess hair and irregular periods. Some types of medications, including anabolic steroids, can cause hirsutism. Hirsutism can also be caused by hair follicles that are particularly sensitive to these androgens.
Hirsutism and PCOS
95% of women with hirsutism, also have polycystic ovarian syndrome(PCOS). In PCOS, abnormal levels of testosterone and luteinizing hormone cause cysts to form on the ovaries. This results in irregular menstruation and hair growth.
Infertility and Hirsutism
If you have hirsutism, or hirsutism caused by PCOS, there is a chance that it will affect your fertility. Excess androgens and ovarian cysts can prevent ovulation from occurring, limiting your chances of becoming pregnant. If your periods are irregular as a result of hirsutism, it is probable that your ovaries are not releasing an egg every month. This is referred to as anovulation. As a result, it may be impossible to become pregnant without medication to encourage ovulation.
Who's At Risk?
Anyone can develop hirsutism, especially if it is caused by PCOS. However, certain groups are at increased risk of developing the condition. Risk factors include:
- having a family history of hirsutism
- use of anabolic steroids
- being of Mediterranean descent
- being of Middle Eastern descent
- being of African American descent
Treatments for Hirsutism
A variety of treatments are available to help your with your hirsutism and increase your chances of conceiving.
Anti-Androgens: Anti-androgens are medications that help to control the production of androgens in your body. This will help to slow the growth of unwanted hair and possibly restore regular periods.
Hormonal Birth Control: Hormonal birth control such as the birth control pill can help to regulate androgen production and balance out your hormones. This will help to slow hair growth and restore menstruation.