Excessive hairiness in women – it’s your hormone levels
Excessive hairiness, also known as hirsutism, can be a rather embarrassing condition for women, especially when it happens on the face, or on any other exposed area. But why does unwanted hair grow in excess where it is not supposed to?
Androgen, a so-called ‘male hormone’, produces male characteristics in men. Likewise, women have their own female hormones (oestrogen) responsible for their feminine features. But nevertheless, women too have a small amount of androgens which is produced by the adrenal glands (a gland found just above the kidneys) which are found in both men and women. The fact which makes men so much different from women is the percentage of these hormones.
A woman will have her feminine features for as long as her hormones stay balanced. Once hormonal levels change and androgen increases, hair may appear on the chin, above the upper lip, on the chest, the lower abdomen and the back.
If this is your problem, the first question you should ask yourself is, are you already in your menopause? Menopause is a stage where one’s ovaries gradually stop functioning, which means eggs are no more produced, menstrual bleeding subsides, female hormones stop expressing themselves and the male hormones express themselves. In other words, the female reproductive system declines. This is when the male characteristics, although slight, seem more expressed when they are no longer masked by the female hormones. Beard starts to grow, voice becomes deep and male-pattern baldness appears.
If you are young and healthy, way too early for menopause and have slight features of male hair growth which had stayed the same throughout the years, there is really nothing to be worried about for as long as it doesn’t progress or affect your menstrual cycle. This can be managed by regular shaving and maintenance.
Once you notice changes in your menstruation cycle (cycles get less frequent and less blood at each menses), progressive hair growth, decreasing breast size or deepening voice, pay attention. These are the sounds of the alarm bells ringing. The most common cause of this is what is known as polycystic ovarian syndrome, better recognized by its abbreviation PCOS. This is when the ovaries keep the eggs growing but ovulation (whereby the eggs escape from the ovaries to start its journey down the Fallopian tube) fails to occur. This will leave the egg in the ovaries in a fluid-filled sac which keeps growing bigger. Without ovulation, the body gets a message that no eggs are being produced and continues producing hormones which allows the growth of more eggs, producing more fluid-filled sacs in the ovaries. When there are a collection of these sacs, the ovaries fail to produce enough female hormones.
When you notice this, the first advisable thing to do is to lose weight. Believe it or not, overweight has always been an enemy of a healthy body. Although merely losing weight does not totally eliminate the problem, it does somehow decrease its severity a lot more. After achieving an optimal weight, if your cycles stay irregular, you should see a doctor for further investigations. Your doctor might send you for a few extra tests besides ultrasound to exclude more serious problems which might be causing your hairiness, such as Cushing’s syndrome (overproduction of stress hormones and male hormones by your adrenal glands), tumors of the adrenal glands or decreased function of your thyroids. Hirsutism may also be caused by side effects of some medication or hormonal treatment. If this is so, replacing the medications with different ones might solve the problem. For this, you should seek your doctor’s advice.
Dr (Ms) De Souza
MD (Russia), MMed (Obs&Gyn)