From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
"Hirsute" redirects here. For the botanical term, see Indumentum.
Barbara Vanbeck, a very hairy woman. Stipple engraving by G. Wellcome V0007287.jpg
Barbara van Beck, wife of Michael van Beck, as depicted in an engraving by G. Scott.
Classification and external resources
Specialty Dermatology, endocrinology
ICD-10 L68.0
ICD-9-CM 704.1
DiseasesDB 20309
MedlinePlus 003148
eMedicine med/1017 derm/472
MeSH D006628

Hirsutism is excessive body hair in men and women on parts of the body where hair is normally absent or minimal, such as on the chin or chest in particular, or the face or body in general.[1][2] It may refer to a male pattern of hair growth that may be a sign of a more serious medical condition,[2] especially if it develops well after puberty.[citation needed] It can be caused by increased levels of androgen hormones. The amount and location of the hair is measured by a Ferriman-Gallwey score. It is different than hypertrichosis, which is excessive hair growth anywhere on the body.[2]

Hirsutism is usually the result of an underlying endocrine imbalance, which may be adrenal, ovarian, or central.[3] Hirsutism is a commonly presenting symptom in dermatology, endocrinology, and gynecology clinics, and one that is considered to be the cause of much psychological distress and social difficulty.[4] Facial hirsutism often leads to the avoidance of social situations and to symptoms of anxiety and depression.[5]

Hirsutism affects between 5–15% of all women across all ethnic backgrounds.[6] Depending on the definition and the underlying data, estimates indicate that approximately 40% of women have some degree of unwanted facial hair.[7]

Signs and symptoms[edit]

Photo of Annie Jones, a bearded lady
Photo of Annie Jones, a bearded lady, taken by Charles Eisenmann around 1900. The cause of Jones' hypertrichosis is unknown.

Hirsutism affects members of any gender, since rising androgen levels can cause excessive body hair, particularly in locations where women normally do not develop terminal hair during puberty (chest, abdomen, back, and face). The medical term for excessive hair growth that affects any gender is hypertrichosis.


Hirsutism can be caused by either an increased level of androgens, the male hormones, or an oversensitivity of hair follicles to androgens. Male hormones such as testosterone stimulate hair growth, increase size and intensify the growth and pigmentation of hair. Other symptoms associated with a high level of male hormones include acne, deepening of the voice, and increased muscle mass.

Growing evidence implicates high circulating levels of insulin in women for the development of hirsutism. This theory is speculated to be consistent with the observation that obese (and thus presumably insulin resistant hyperinsulinemic) women are at high risk of becoming hirsute. Further, treatments that lower insulin levels will lead to a reduction in hirsutism.

It is speculated that insulin, at high enough concentration, stimulates the ovarian theca cells to produce androgens. There may also be an effect of high levels of insulin to activate insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) receptor in those same cells. Again, the result is increased androgen production.

Signs that are suggestive of an androgen-secreting tumor in a patient with hirsutism is rapid onset, virilization and palpable abdominal mass.

The following may be some of the conditions that may increase a woman's normally low level of male hormones:


One method of evaluating hirsutism is the Ferriman-Gallwey score which gives a score based on the amount and location of hair growth on a woman.[10]

Diagnosis of patients with even mild hirsutism should include assessment of ovulation and ovarian ultrasound (because of the high prevalence of polycystic ovary syndrome), as well as 17α-hydroxyprogesterone (because of the possibility of finding nonclassic 21-hydroxylase deficiency[11]).

Other blood value that may be evaluated in the workup of hirsutism include:

If no underlying cause can be identified, the condition is considered idiopathic.


Many women with unwanted hair seek methods of hair removal. However, the causes of the hair growth should be evaluated by a physician, who can conduct blood tests, pinpoint the specific origin of the abnormal hair growth, and advise on the treatment.


Medication include:[8]

  • GNRH agonists
    • Spironolactone: Antialdosterone antiandrogenic compound.[12]
    • Cyproterone acetate: A progestin that also has strong antiandrogenic action. In addition to single form, it is also available in some formulations of combined oral contraceptives.
    • Flutamide: Androgen receptor antagonist. The most effective treatment that was tested is the oral flutamide for one year. Seventeen of eighteen women with hirsutism treated with combination therapy of flutamide 250 mg twice daily and an oral contraceptive pill had a rapid and marked reduction in their hirsutism score. Amongst these, one woman with pattern hair loss showed remarkable improvement.[medical citation needed]
    • Bicalutamide
  • Hormonal contraceptives
  • Metformin: Antihyperglycemic drug used for diabetes mellitus. However, it is also effective in treatment of hirsutism associated with insulin resistance (e.g. polycystic ovary syndrome)
  • Eflornithine: Blocks putrescine that is necessary for the growth of hair follicles

Other methods[edit]

  • Epilation
  • Waxing
  • Shaving
  • Laser hair removal
  • Electrolysis
  • Lifestyle change, including reducing excessive weight and addressing insulin resistance, may be beneficial. Insulin resistance can cause excessive testosterone levels in women, resulting in hirsutism.[13] One study reported that women who stayed on a low calorie diet for at least six months lost weight and reduced insulin resistance. Their levels of Sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) increased, which reduced the amount of free testosterone in their blood. As expected, the women reported a reduction in the severity of their hirsutism and acne symptoms.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hirsute - meaning. London: Merriam Webster Dictionary. Retrieved 10 November 2016. 
  2. ^ a b c "Merck Manuals online medical Library". Merck & Co. Retrieved 2011-03-04. 
  3. ^ Blume-Peytavi U, Hahn S. "Medical treatment of hirsutism. Dermatol Ther. 2008 Sep-Oct; 21(5): 329-39. Review". 
  4. ^ Barth JH, Catalan J, Cherry CA, Day A (September 1993). "Psychological morbidity in women referred for treatment of hirsutism". J Psychosom Res. 37 (6): 615–9. doi:10.1016/0022-3999(93)90056-L. PMID 8410747. 
  5. ^ Jackson J, Caro JJ; Caro G, Garfield F; Huber F, Zhou W; Lin CS, Shander D & Schrode K. "The effect of eflornithine 13.9% cream on the bother and discomfort due to hirsutism. Int J Derm 2007; 46: 976-981". the Eflornithine HCl Study Group. 
  6. ^ Azziz R. (May 2003). "The evaluation and management of hirsutism". Obstet Gynaecol. 101 (5 pt 1): 995–1007. PMID 12738163. 
  7. ^ Blume-Peytavi U, Gieler U, Hoffmann R, Shapiro J (2007). "Unwanted Facial Hair: Affects, Effects and Solutions. Dermatology.". 215 (2): 139–146. doi:10.1159/000104266. PMID 17684377. 
  8. ^ a b c d Unluhizarci K, Kaltsas G, Kelestimur F (2012). "Non polycystic ovary syndrome-related endocrine disorders associated with hirsutism". Eur J Clin Invest. 42 (1): 86–94. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2362.2011.02550.x. PMID 21623779. 
  9. ^ Somani N, Harrison S, Bergfeld WF (2008). "The clinical evaluation of hirsutism". Dermatol Ther. 21 (5): 376–91. doi:10.1111/j.1529-8019.2008.00219.x. PMID 18844715. 
  10. ^ Ferriman D, Gallwey JD (November 1961). "Clinical assessment of body hair growth in women". J. Clin. Endocrinol. Metab. 21 (11): 1440–7. doi:10.1210/jcem-21-11-1440. PMID 13892577. 
  11. ^ Di Fede G, Mansueto P, Pepe I, Rini GB, Carmina E (2010). "High prevalence of polycystic ovary syndrome in women with mild hirsutism and no other significant clinical symptoms". Fertil. Steril. 94 (1): 194–7. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2009.02.056. PMID 19338993. 
  12. ^ Karakurt F, Sahin I, Güler S, et al. (April 2008). "Comparison of the clinical efficacy of flutamide and spironolactone plus ethinyloestradiol/cyproterone acetate in the treatment of hirsutism: a randomised controlled study". Adv Ther. 25 (4): 321–8. doi:10.1007/s12325-008-0039-5. PMID 18389188. 
  13. ^ Taylor SI, Dons RF, Hernandez E, Roth J, Gorden P (December 1982). "Insulin resistance associated with androgen excess in women with autoantibodies to the insulin receptor". 97 (6): 851–5. PMID 7149493. 

External links[edit]