If you’re a woman it can be annoying and embarrassing to find you’re growing unwanted hair in places such as the abdomen, chest, and face. Not only is unwanted hair unsightly, it can sometimes be indicative of an underlying medical problem. What causes unwanted hair in women and what can be done about it?
Unwanted hair in women is the product of a group of hormones known as androgens. These are the hormones that give men their “manly” characteristics such as a deep voice, muscle mass, and, sometimes, hair on the chest. The best known androgen is testosterone. Women also produce a certain amount of androgens, although usually not as much as men. If too much androgen is produced by a woman or if her body is unusually sensitive to the effects of androgens, it can cause dark hair to grow on places it wouldn’t normally grow, a condition known as hirsutism.
Unwanted hair in women is not always a sign of a medical problem. Sometimes there’s a genetic basis for excessive body hair. Some medications can also cause hirsutism, including steroid based medications, as well as certain anti-seizure and anti-hypertensive medications. Your doctor should be able to tell you if the medications you’re on may be contributing to the problem.
More serious causes of unwanted hair in women can be related to certain types of tumors including brain tumors and tumors of the ovaries as well as an underactive thyroid gland. A condition known as Cushing’s syndrome, where the adrenal glands produce too much cortisol, can cause hirsutism. One of the most common medical reasons for hirsutism is polycystic ovary disease where the ovaries develop multiple cysts and produce excessive amounts of androgen. If you have polycystic ovary disease you usually have other symptoms such as irregular periods, infertility, excess abdominal fat, acne, and high blood pressure. All of these conditions can be diagnosed by your doctor with the help of blood tests.
If you have unwanted hair is there anything you can do about it? If there’s an underlying medical condition causing the problem, the first priority is to treat it. Once the excess androgen levels are reduced, the unwanted hair should decrease. In some cases, birth control pills may be used to control androgen levels although the pill can have side effects and shouldn’t be used in all situations. In other cases, weight loss can reduce androgen levels and help the problem. Otherwise, the best solution is to remove the excess hair using various hair removal methods such as plucking or waxing. More expensive options include electrolysis or laser hair removal.
The first priority is to make sure your unwanted hair isn’t due to a correctable medical condition. Don’t assume that your symptoms are a result of “age”. See a doctor knowledgeable about the problem of unwanted hair in women for a full physical and blood tests.