24 December 2004 Endocrine Evaluation Needed For Women With Male-Type Hair Growth
Women in their child-bearing years, with even minimal amounts of unwanted hair in male-type patterns, may be suffering hormonal imbalance linked to a variety of serious side effects and medical conditions, says an article in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and the University of Alabama, Birmingham (UAB) found that women with minimal excess hair growth had excessive levels of androgens, "male" hormones that normally exist in women in lesser amounts. "We know that excess hair growth in the male pattern in women, which we call hirsutism, generally is a good indicator that there is an underlying hormone imbalance. Now this relatively large study shows that nearly 55 percent of women who have minimal unwanted hair growth have an androgen excess-related disorder, primarily the polycystic ovary syndrome," said researcher Ricardo Azziz.
Among women in the study complaining of minimal unwanted hair growth, 54 percent were found to have an underlying androgen excess disorder. Over 90 percent of these women were found to be suffering from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a disorder characterized by numerous small cysts on the periphery of the ovaries. Women with PCOS often struggle with menstrual irregularities, skin problems, and excess weight and they are at increased risk of developing Type II diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.
"In our study population of women with minimal unwanted hair growth, there were few predictors of an androgen excess disorder," said Azziz. "Compared to their non-affected counterparts, those with an androgen excess disorder did not differ in race, body mass, degree of hair growth or family history. However, patients with an identifiable androgen excess disorder were slightly younger and more likely to complain of infertility."
The best predictor of an androgen excess disorder among patients with minimal excess hair growth was the presence of infrequent menstrual periods, although some women who claimed to have regular periods were found to have irregular ovulatory cycles, and a significant number of these women had an androgen excess disorder.
"Electrologists tend to be the front line for patients with hirsutism. When electrologists recognize that the symptom is part of a larger disorder, they are able to give appropriate referrals, which enables patients to find the diagnostic and treatment help they need. Women with only minimal unwanted hair growth, however, often have an underlying hormonal imbalance that goes undetected altogether," said Azziz. "Unfortunately," he added, "whether the outward symptoms are minimal or significant, many women view hyperandrogenism as a cosmetic rather than an endocrinologic abnormality."