Hirsutism (excess facial hair) in women

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Hirsutism (excess facial hair) in women

Question

What causes some women to have excess facial hair?

Tina
Missouri

Answer

The amount of hair you have the potential to grow is genetically determined. Women from certain ethnic groups tend to have more body hair than others do. But some medical conditions and medications also can cause excess hair growth (hirsutism).

Women with hirsutism have thick, often dark, hair on their faces as well as their chests, abdomens and backs. Hirsutism can be caused by any condition that increases the normally low levels of male hormones in a woman. These conditions are usually associated with other signs and symptoms, such as menstrual irregularities, and may include:

  • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Congenital adrenal hyperplasia
  • Androgen-producing tumors of the ovary or adrenal gland
  • Cushing's syndrome

Hirsutism can also be caused by hair follicles that are overly sensitive to male hormones. Doctors refer to this as idiopathic hirsutism. The term "idiopathic" means "of unknown origin." This diagnosis is made when a woman has excess facial hair but has normal female levels of male hormones, no menstrual irregularities and no other conditions that may contribute to excess hair growth.

In addition, some medications can cause hirsutism. These include birth control pills, hormones and anabolic steroids.

Women may also develop excess facial hair (hypertrichosis) that isn't due to male hormone changes. This excess hair is often very fine and soft (vellus hair). Certain medications, such as phenytoin (Dilantin) and minoxidil (Rogaine), and medical conditions, such as anorexia nervosa, can cause hypertrichosis.

See your doctor if you have a sudden increase in facial or body hair, especially if accompanied by irregular periods.

Last Updated: 09/25/2006
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