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Excessive hair growth

Published:Saturday | March 24, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Dr Douglas Street, Contributor


There has been a lot of talk in modern times about equality of the sexes and women accessing certain privileges that men used to enjoy exclusively, but they don't want to look like men!


When women have excessive hair growth, they usually have a male pattern of hair, growth, which can, therefore, be very disturbing! Hypertrichosis is a form of excessive hair growth that can affect both sexes and may be all over the body or limited to one part.

It may be genetic or acquired after birth. Acquired hypertrichosis may be the result of medication, but in some cases, it may be a sign of cancer.

Hirsutism is another form of excessive hair growth that affects mostly women. It is usually due to excessive amounts of male hormones in the body, or excessive response to the hormones. It causes growth of hair in places unusual for a woman such as the face, chest, abdomen, and back. There may even be thinning of the hair at the front of the scalp.

Causes

Excessive male hormones in the body may be due to a number of causes. Polycystic ovarian syndrome is one such disorder and may cause irregular/absent periods, obesity, reduced fertility, excessive hair growth, and ovaries with many cysts (pockets of fluid). Then there is Cushing's syndrome, which is due to excessive levels of cortisol in the body. Obesity and insulin resistance (both situations where the body's response to insulin is reduced) may cause an excessive production of insulin, which seems to encourage excessive hair growth.

Certain medications such as phenytoin (a medication used to control seizures) may also cause excessive hair growth. Tumours of the adrenal glands or the ovaries that produce excessive amounts of male hormones may also cause this problem.

To treat excessive hair growth, it is best to treat the cause. This may not be possible in all cases, however, the treatment should be geared towards controlling the growth of or removing the hair. Some medications used are combined oral contraceptives, medications that block the effect of male hormones (spironolactone, cyproterone acetate, flutamide, and finasteride), metformin (which reduces insulin resistance), and eflornithine (blocks hair follicle growth).

Other methods include regular shaving, shaving creams/powders and epilation (removing hair from the root). The latter may be done by tweezing, waxing, or threading. Electrology and laser treatment cause permanent hair removal.

Dr Douglas Street is a general practitioner and has private practices at Trinity Medical Centre, Trinity Mall at 3 Barnett Street in Montego Bay, and Omega Medical Centre, Plaza de Negril, Negril. Send feedback to drdougstreet@yahoo.com.