Hirsutism in women - literature review

Here some excerpts from the 2012 review of hirsutism in women in the journal American Family Physician:

Hirsutism is excess terminal hair that commonly appears in a male pattern in women.

Although hirsutism is generally associated with hyperandrogenemia, 50% of women with mild symptoms have normal androgen levels.

Causes of hirsutism

The most common cause of hirsutism is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which accounts for 3 out of every 4 cases.

Many medications can also cause hirsutism.

In patients whose hirsutism is not related to medication use, evaluation is focused on testing for endocrinopathies and neoplasms, such:

- polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- adrenal hyperplasia
- thyroid dysfunction
- Cushing syndrome
- androgen-secreting tumors

Symptoms of hirsutism

Symptoms and findings suggestive of neoplasm include rapid onset of symptoms, signs of virilization, and a palpable abdominal or pelvic mass.

Patients without these findings who have mild symptoms and normal menses can be treated empirically.

For patients with moderate or severe symptoms, an early morning total testosterone level should be obtained, and if elevated, it should be followed by a plasma free testosterone level.

A total testosterone level greater than 200 ng per dL (6.94 nmol per L) should prompt evaluation for an androgen-secreting tumor.

Diagnosis of hirsutism

Laboratory workup may include:

- early morning total testosterone level
- plasma free testosterone level
- thyroid function tests
- prolactin level
- 17-hydroxyprogesterone level
- corticotropin stimulation test

Treatment of hirsutism

Treatment includes hair removal and pharmacologic measures.

Shaving is effective but needs to be repeated often. Evidence for the effectiveness of electrolysis and laser therapy is limited.

Laser treatment does not result in complete, permanent hair reduction, but it is more effective than other methods such as shaving, waxing, and electrolysis. It produces hair reduction for up to 6 months. The effect is enhanced with multiple treatments.

In patients who are not planning a pregnancy, first-line pharmacologic treatment should include oral contraceptives. Topical agents, such as eflornithine, may also be used.

Treatment response should be monitored for at least six months before making adjustments.


Hirsutism in women. Bode D, Seehusen DA, Baird D. Am Fam Physician. 2012 Feb 15;85(4):373-80.

Management of Hirsutism (Excess Hair)

Image source: Skin layers. Wikipedia, public domain.

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