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All About Hirsutism: Signs and Effective Treatments

All About Hirsutism: Signs and Effective Treatments

Although there’s a wide range of variations, men and women have uniquely masculine and feminine features exclusive to their gender. For example, men have facial hair, more muscle mass, and deeper voices, and women have wider hips, larger breasts, and higher voices. 

When women begin to take on male features, it’s typically due to a hormonal imbalance that tips the levels in favor of the male hormones. 

Hormone production falls under the jurisdiction of your endocrine system — our specialty here at The Endocrine Center in Houston, Texas. Our board-certified endocrinologists expertly diagnose and treat all conditions related to your hormones, such as diabetesthyroid disorderslow testosterone, and hirsutism, to name a few.

In this post, we focus on hirsutism, explaining how to spot the signs and how we treat the condition.

Understanding hirsutism

Hirsutism is both a condition and a symptom of other conditions. It occurs when your hormones are out of whack and you have more male hormones (androgens) than female hormones (estrogen) in your system. 

All women have small amounts of androgens in their bodies, just as all men have small amounts of estrogen, but when something disrupts the delicate balance, your body reacts. Whether your estrogen wanes relative to androgens, or you begin overproducing androgens, hirsutism results. 

Although any woman can develop hirsutism, it’s most common among:

Hirsutism affects about 5%-10% of women during childbearing years and about 40% of all women at some point in their life. Although the symptoms of hirsutism may bother you, it’s not detrimental to your physical health. If your hirsutism is a symptom of an underlying disease, it’s important to treat the root cause.

How to spot the signs of hirsutism

The most common and familiar hirsutism symptom is dark, coarse hair growth in places where hair typically only grows on men — your face, lower abdomen, back, chest, arms, and legs. Of course, women have hair in these places already, but it’s usually very fine and barely noticeable. Hirsutism triggers thicker, darker, coarser hair growth.

But virilization — the development of secondary sex characteristics — can lead to other symptoms, too, such as:

Hirsutism can also take a toll on your mental health, causing stress, anxiety, and depression if the symptoms negatively impact your body image and self-confidence.

Hirsutism: Why me?

Scientists have yet to discover what causes some women to develop hirsutism that’s unrelated to other conditions. However, we know plenty about those conditions that trigger hirsutism as a symptom. Here’s a look at hirsutism-causing conditions.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

PCOS is a hormonal disorder that affects millions of women and is often marked by high levels of androgens. Aside from hirsutism, PCOS can also lead to obesity, infertility, irregular menstrual cycles, and numerous other conditions. 

Menopause

During menopause, your hormone levels decrease. As estrogen declines, androgens can increase, leading to hirsutism symptoms in some women.

Anabolic steroids

Anabolic steroids are synthetic hormones used to increase muscle mass and strength. Unfortunately, these steroids can also have a variety of undesirable side effects, one of which is hirsutism. Other symptoms associated with steroid use may include acne, oily skin, aggression or irritability, male pattern baldness, or changes in voice or sexual drive. 

Other drugs, such as testosterone therapy and glucocorticoids, can also trigger hirsutism.

Natural androgen production

If your body naturally produces more androgens, you may develop hirsutism. Even if you produce normal levels of androgens, you could develop hirsutism if your hair follicles are hypersensitive to the hormones.

Cushing syndrome

Cushing syndrome is a hormonal disorder that stems from an excessive amount of cortisol in the bloodstream. One of the most common symptoms is hirsutism; others include weight gain, thinning skin, slow-healing wounds, and stretch marks.

Hirsutism treatments

Our team treats hirsutism based on the underlying cause. Often, weight loss is the best approach, as obesity triggers androgen production. When treatment is necessary, we may recommend hormone therapies, such as oral contraceptives or gonadotropin-releasing hormones. 

Androgen suppressants, low-dose steroids, and insulin-lowering drugs can also help.

To find out what’s causing your hirsutism and which treatment is right for you, contact The Endocrine Center at any of our three Houston locations or request an appointment online.

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