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All About Hirsutism - an unnatural growth of hair

Updated on September 28, 2013
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An old circus poster of the bearded woman - or a woman with hirsutism.A man with hirsutism.A modern woman with hirsutism.
An old circus poster of the bearded woman - or a woman with hirsutism.
An old circus poster of the bearded woman - or a woman with hirsutism.
A man with hirsutism.
A man with hirsutism.
A modern woman with hirsutism.
A modern woman with hirsutism.

Remember in old movies and documentaries where it showed segments about seeing the "bearded woman" for a dime at a circus? This bearded woman wasn't just a freak of nature; she had an actual disease. The disease she had is hirsutism. This is a somewhat common disease in which hair grows where it wouldn't normally - such as on the palms of the hands. Many people have some form of abnormal hair growth, but the bearded woman had an excessive case of the condition!

The disease usually affects women, but there are some cases of men having the disease. Generally, the term "hirsutism" refers to women growing body hair in areas a man would, such as the chest, eyes or face.

All women have fine, downy hair across the body, but women with hirsutism have thick, coarse dark hair in these spots, or hair growth in abnormal places, like the palms.

Three women with the condition.
Three women with the condition.

Spread of the Disease

Hirsutism is usually caused by an abnormal amount of male hormones in the body. Women with the condition usually have far more testosterone in their system compared to regular women without the condition. If the hair follicles are overly sensitive to androgens, it is also possible for hair to grow abnormally.

Obesity may play a factor in the condition. If a woman is obese, her chances of abnormal hair growth is actually higher than her normal weight counterparts. Because of this, doctors often recommend women try to lose weight if she wants to get rid of unwanted hair due to hirsutism. It is also possible to aquire this condition from cancer or cushing syndrome.

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How to treat hirsutism

The condition can be treated in a number of ways, with varying degrees of success.

Electrolysis is one treatment method. A needle is inserted into a hair follicle and emits a tiny pulse of electricity. It results in permanent hair removal, but the entire process can be extremely painful. It also takes a very long time because a needle must be inserted into each individual hair follicle to remove unwanted hair.

Laser therapy is another common treatment. A laser is pointed at the skin, which causes damage to the hair follicle, preventing new hair growth. Slight discomfort is felt during laser treatments and the skin may stay swollen for several weeks.

If immediate results aren't needed, doctors usually prescribe birth control pills. Birth control pills have been known to lesser the symptoms of hirsutism. If that doesn't work, anti-androgen medication may be prescribed.

Solutions for mild hirsutism


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