Dr Tulika Arbat from Nagpur is an MD in dermatology. She has specialised in Aesthetic Dermatology and has received training in Lasers from Paris, France.
All women have body hair, but it may be more noticeable in some than in others. Hirsutism or unwanted hair or excess hair refers to the growth of coarse, dark hair in areas where women typically grow fine hair or no hair at all. Common sites are above the lip, on the chin, sideburn area, chest, lower abdomen, and back.
What causes hirsutism or excessive hair growth ?
Hirsutism is caused by an excess production or action of hormones called androgens, secreted by the ovaries or adrenal glands and produced locally in the hair follicle. Several different conditions can lead to hirsutism. The two most common causes of hirsutism are polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and idiopathic hirsutism. Both are diagnosed by physical examination, medical and family history, and sometimes blood tests.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome— Women with PCOS often have hirsutism in combination with menstrual irregularities. Women with PCOS may also have acne and balding near the front of the head. PCOS is a chronic condition, but several treatments can reduce hair growth.
- Idiopathic hirsutism— A gradual increased growth of coarse body hair is typically the only symptom in women with this condition. Menstrual cycles are normal in women with idiopathic hirsutism.
Normal Vs abnormal hair growth in women
It can be difficult to determine what counts as excessive body hair. It is typical for women to have fine hair all over the body, including the face. Many women also notice thicker, darker hair on the stomach, chin and chest.The Ferriman-Gallwey scale assigns a score to women, depending on how much hair growth they have on various areas of the body. According to the scale, fine hair is ‘normal,’ as are a few coarse strays. It is more likely to be a problem when hair is thick on many areas of the body. A doctor tallies the score and determine whether its normal hair or hirsutism.
Is hirsutism treatable?
Our culture usually determines how much hair is cosmetically acceptable and how important it is to remove ‘excessive’ hair. The psychological impact of hirsutism can range from annoying to severely disabling. Any woman who is troubled by hirsutism should not hesitate to ask her doctor about treatment options.
What should be the expectation from the treatment?
The treatment of hirsutism requires patience because hair follicles have a life cycle of approximately six months. Most medications must be taken for six months before a noticeable improvement occurs. In the meantime, the existing hair can be mechanically removed.
What is the duration of the treatment?
In women, androgen hormone concentrations decrease with age. Women in their 20s may need multiyear treatment to control the hirsutism. Women in their 30s and 40s have decreasing androgen concentrations.
Is laser hair removal effective?
Laser hair removal is an effective, faster, and painless procedure. It can often permanently reduce hair growth. Most people require four to six treatments spaced approximately four to six weeks apart in order to achieve satisfactory hair removal, and maintenance treatments may be needed once every six to twelve months to remove the smaller fine hair that grow back.
Can it be prevented?
Hirsutism due to PCOS can be minimised by making lifestyle changes such as:
- Diet changes: For women with insulin resistance, reducing their intake of sugar and carbohydrates can help.
- Weight management: Losing weight can help control many symptoms of PCOS. For many women, the right combination of diet and exercise may be key.
- Mental health support: PCOS is a complex disorder that can change a woman’s appearance, fertility and health. Many women find support groups and positive self-talk helpful.
Hair removal methods (laser hair removal) make it possible to eliminate aesthetic concerns of excess hair growth quickly. For women who are concerned about this, the results are excellent. When hair growth is due to an underlying condition, the treatment depends on the cause. Most hormonal disorders, including PCOS respond to medical treatments. Proper treatment can reduce the amount of body hair a woman experiences. You can consult a dermatologist to determine the scale and treatment of hirsutism. However, even healthy women may grow much more body hair than they believe to be desirable. In such cases, they can continue removing the hair.
The ideas and information expressed are solely by the columnist and not by Nation Next.