EDP column by Dr Ketan Dhatariya

“I have recently noticed hair growing on my chin, and underneath my belly button. It is getting so bad I need to pluck them. What could be the cause of this?"

Hirsutism is a symptom defined as ‘male pattern hair growth in women’. This means you are getting hair in places only men usually get hair. These areas include the face, around the nipples, tops of the legs, on the chest or lower back. There are lots of causes for this, but it is rare for there to be a significant illness causing the excess hair growth. The underlying problem is that you possibly have too much of the male hormone testosterone. Other symptoms associated with too much of the male hormone are acne, and greasy skin.

Often having excess hair is determined by your racial background. People of Mediterranean or Eastern European origin often have dark hair that easily shown up on pale skin.

Your doctor should be able to determine whether you have hirsutes by examining you. If you do, then a blood test will need to be done to measure the levels of testosterone and other male hormones. If the levels are high you may be asked to see a hormone specialist.

Commonly, raised levels of the male hormones are associated with irregular periods in a condition known as polycystic ovarian syndrome. This is most common in the overweight. There are, however, other hormonal conditions that can cause this. Certain medications can also cause hirsutes. These include anticonvulsants, blood pressure pills, drugs used to suppress the immune system and drugs of abuse –  such as anabolic steroids used in body building.

There are several approaches to treatment. The first is simple waxing or plucking. It depends on how much excess hair and where it is. If it is troublesome then your doctor can prescribe medications – tablets of ointment - that block the actions of male hormones.  This treatment does not work straight away, because it stops new hair growth, and does not get rid of hair already present. It can take up to 6 months to see a difference.

If the levels of the male hormones are very high, then it may be necessary to have tests to find out where the hormone is coming from. Occasionally excess hormones can be produced by the adrenal glands or ovaries.

For more information about Hirsutes click these links: