Hirsutism is excessive hair growth in certain areas of the body. It’s a problem that mainly affects women.

It’s relatively common, although some women may find it embarrassing or distressing to live with.

It’s often a long-term problem, but there are a number of treatments that can help keep it under control.

Symptoms of hirsutism

The excessive hair in hirsutism is usually thick and dark, rather than fine and fair.

When to see your GP

It’s a good idea to see your GP if you have hirsutism. They can look for any underlying cause and advise you about the treatments available.

Your GP may:

  • examine the areas of excess hair growth
  • ask about any other symptoms
  • ask about your medical history, such as whether you’re taking any medication
  • carry out a blood test to check your hormone levels

Depending on what your GP thinks may be causing your symptoms, they may treat you themselves or you may be referred to a specialist.

Treatments for hirsutism

Treatment for hirsutism usually involves techniques to remove the excess hair and treatment to help slow its growth or stop it coming back.

The main treatments are:

  • home hair removal methods – such as shaving, plucking or waxing
  • specialist hair removal treatments – such as laser hair removal
  • eflornithine cream – a prescription cream that can help slow down the growth of facial hair
  • oral contraceptives, including co-cyprindiol tablets – a type of contraceptive pill available on prescription that can help prevent excess hair growth

It may take a few months to notice the effects of treatment, so it’s important to persist with it. In many cases, treatment will need to be continued indefinitely.

Read more about the treatments for hirsutism.

Causes of hirsutism

Hirsutism is caused by an excess of male hormones called androgens in your body, or by your body being more sensitive to these hormones.

In many cases, it’s not clear why this happens. Some women just seem to develop extra hair growth as they get older, particularly after the menopause.

In younger women, the most common cause is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a condition that can cause irregular periods and fluid-filled sacs (cysts) on the ovaries.

Less common causes of hirsutism include:

  • Cushing’s syndrome – a hormonal disorder that causes sudden weight gain and bloating around the face and neck
  • congenital adrenal hyperplasia – an inherited condition affecting the adrenal glands, the glands above the kidneys that produce hormones
  • obesity – losing weight may help improve the symptoms in these cases
  • acromegaly – a condition in which the body produces too much growth hormone
  • medicines – such as anabolic steroids, used by some people to build muscle and improve athletic performance
  • a tumour (growth) – that increases the production of androgens and usually affects the ovaries or adrenal glands