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    The Ultimate Guide to Hirsutism: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

    Published 14 August 2019
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    Medically reviewed by Dr. Anna Targonskaya, Obstetrician and gynecologist
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    The symptoms and signs of hirsutism depend on the underlying cause of the condition. Occurring in about 5 to 10 percent of all women, hirsutism may occur slightly more often with age. This guide explains some of the most common causes and available treatments.

    What is hirsutism?

    Hirsutism is the excessive growth of coarse or thick dark hair that occurs in “male-typical” locations on women. For example, women with hirsutism may have hair on their upper lip, sideburns, chin, lower back, and thighs. 

    What are the symptoms of hirsutism?

    The mildest form of hirsutism causes mature hair growth that’s the same color as the hair on the scalp. Other symptoms may include:

    • Oily skin 
    • Hormonal acne
    • Hair loss
    • Male-pattern baldness 
    • Enlarged clitoris
    • Deeper voice

    What causes hirsutism?

    The main cause of hirsutism is a hormonal imbalance that creates an excess of androgens, the hormones that trigger male physical and sexual development. Women typically have low levels of androgens, but these levels may rise and fall depending on the individual. High levels of androgens tend to stimulate the hair follicles, which leads to an increase in hair growth.

    Polycystic ovary syndrome

    Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, is a hormonal disorder in women who are of reproductive age. The exact cause of this disease is unknown, but women with PCOS tend to develop small fluid-filled sacs on the ovaries. In addition to excessive hair growth, PCOS can cause irregular menstrual periods, weight gain, acne, oily skin, pelvic pain, and infertility.

    More common in women who are overweight, PCOS poses a greater risk for metabolic syndrome, heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. There is no cure for the disease, but it can be controlled with regular exercise, diet, and medication. Some women find that birth control pills help regulate irregular periods and reduce male hormones. Infertility caused by PCOS may require intervention with medication, surgery, or in-vitro fertilization.

    Cushing’s syndrome

    Cushing’s syndrome occurs when your body has high levels of cortisol for long periods of time. Often referred to as hypercortisolism, Cushing’s may be caused by taking excessive amounts of oral corticosteroids or when the body makes too much cortisol. It may also be caused by a pituitary gland tumor or a gland disease. Symptoms of the disease include:

    • Slow-healing cuts
    • Acne
    • Excessive weight gain
    • Thicker facial hair
    • Decreased libido
    • Severe fatigue
    • Muscle weakness
    • Anxiety
    • Cognitive difficulties

    An excessive amount of cortisol increases your risk of high blood pressure, bone loss, and type-2 diabetes. Prescription medication is the main course of treatment, but it depends greatly on the underlying cause.

    Tumors in adrenal glands

    Part of the endocrine system, adrenal glands release hormones into the blood. These hormones regulate metabolism, puberty, sexual development, and other body processes. Located on top of the kidneys, these glands may form tumors. Adrenal tumors can be either benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

    Symptoms of adrenal cancer include:

    • High blood pressure
    • Excessive facial hair
    • Fatigue
    • Diabetes
    • Headaches
    • Feelings of anxiety and fear
    • Sweating
    • Tremors

    Treatment of adrenal tumors usually includes surgery to remove one or both of the adrenal glands, chemotherapy, and/or medication.


    Several types of medications have been known to cause excessive hair growth in women. These include:

    • Anabolic steroids
    • T