OPEN American family physician | 31 Jul 2019
E Matheson and J Bain
Hirsutism is the excessive growth of terminal hair in a typical male pattern in a female. It is often a sign of excessive androgen levels. Although many conditions can lead to hirsutism, polycystic ovary syndrome and idiopathic hyperandrogenism account for more than 85% of cases. Less common causes include idiopathic hirsutism, nonclassic congenital adrenal hyperplasia, androgen-secreting tumors, medications, hyperprolactinemia, thyroid disorders, and Cushing syndrome. Women with an abnormal hirsutism score based on the Ferriman-Gallwey scoring system should be evaluated for elevated androgen levels. Women with rapid onset of hirsutism over a few months or signs of virilization are at high risk of having an androgen-secreting tumor. Hirsutism may be treated with pharmacologic agents and/or hair removal. Recommended pharmacologic therapies include combined oral contraceptives, finasteride, spironolactone, and topical eflornithine. Because of the length of the hair growth cycle, therapies should be tried for at least six months before switching treatments. Hair removal methods such as shaving, waxing, and plucking may be effective, but their effects are temporary. Photoepilation and electrolysis are somewhat effective for long-term hair removal but are expensive.
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