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PCOS and unwanted hair growth
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PCOS and unwanted hair growth

Unusual facial hair growth on the chin and upper lip in women are some of the early signs of PCOS

Jayasree W (30), a nurse from Kerala was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome or PCOS in 2008, back when she was in school. She first began noticing unwanted and unusual facial hair growth in her upper lip and chin.

She says that she often felt embarrassed when her peers would ask her about the unusual hair growth, especially on her upper lip.

“They would often ask why I had a mustache, which was embarrassing,” recalls Jayasree. She adds that she grew more self-conscious about the unusual hair growth only when she joined college in 2011 and began waxing her upper lip. “I was also on medication for PCOS,” she tells Happiest Health.

For women, developing hair in male patterns, also known as hirsutism, can be a cause for concern. It is, however, a common symptom that women with PCOS go through.

Studies have shown that women with unwanted facial hair experience high levels of distress have concerns about their appearance, feel ashamed and lack self-confidence.

Dr Kiran Yadav, consultant-obstetrician and gynecologist at Motherhood Hospitals, Gurgaon says that in women with PCOS, due to the hormonal imbalance, the levels of the male hormone, androgen, tend to increase which is known as hyperandrogenism. “This can cause symptoms such as unwanted or unusual hair growth. Development of coarse, dense or thick hair — usually on the chin, face, chest, upper back,” she says.

What is PCOS?

Every woman will have the female hormones, estrogen and progesterone, in their body, explains Dr Sarada. “In the menstrual cycle, before the egg releases, it is mainly the estrogen which is present. Post the egg release, progesterone comes up.”

“Usually, the male hormone androgen is present at very low levels in the female body. In conditions like PCOS however, there is a hormonal imbalance where progesterone is more in the body. The imbalance between estrogen and progesterone leads to an increase in the levels of androgen, the male hormone,” she says.

PCOS and unwanted hair growth

Dr Sarada M, consultant obstetrician and gynecologist, Yashoda Hospitals, Hyderabad says that those termed female at birth usually do not develop much hair on their face, chin, upper lip and chest. “These are associated with the male pattern hair growth since it is the male hormones that stimulate hair growth in these regions. Those who are female at birth may only see thin hair growth in these regions,” she says.

She adds that when hair growth in these regions becomes very thick or if there is sudden, obvious hair growth, then it is classified as hirsutism. 

Dr Yadav says that in people with PCOS, hirsutism is often accompanied by other symptoms such as irregular periods, and loss of hair from the scalp.

Unwanted hair growth can also be caused by other factors such as enzyme deficiencies, taking certain medications or anabolic steroids, and underlying tumors of the adrenal gland or ovaries, explains Dr Sharada. 

Treatment of unwanted hair growth

Whenever people consult me for hirsutism, I guide them that the root cause of the problem is what needs to be addressed and the unwanted facial hair growth is only a symptom that can be removed through waxing or laser hair removal treatment,” says Dr Yadav.

Dr Yadav says, “There are a few hormone medications that can be prescribed to reduce unwanted hair growth. However, once it has already occurred, then it is challenging to remove this through medication. It can help in managing the condition and in arresting the growth of new facial hair. We must treat it either with laser or any other such hair removal procedures.” 

Lifestyle changes such as following a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and managing weight can also help along with the temporary hair removal methods. Birth control pills are also one of the medications that are prescribed to treat hirsutism in extreme cases,” says Dr Sarada.

Takeaway

Hirsutism or the growth of unwanted hair in places like the face, upper chest, etc in women is one of the common symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Treatment can be in the form of medications to address the hormonal imbalances and temporary methods of hair removal such as waxing, shaving, and laser treatment.

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