Excessive hair growth in women, known as hirsutism, can be the result of heredity, hormonal imbalance or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Unwanted hair tends to be more of a problem for women than for men. One of the major contributing factors to excessive hair growth in women is an increase in the body's production of androgens, or male hormones. Hypertrichosis is the term for abnormal hair growth that can occur in either men or women.
There is a hereditary component to hirsutism; that is, it can run in families. Excessive hair growth is linked to abnormally high amounts of testosterone production in a woman's body. When adrenal glands make too much male hormone, it stimulates the growth of facial hair on the upper lip, cheeks and chin and sometimes body hair on the abdomen, back and chest. Sometimes a woman's hair follicles are oversensitive to the presence of testosterone, and these follicles rapidly grow thick hairs.
One of the most common causes of excessive hair growth in women is PCOS. This condition comes as the result of too many androgens being produced in a woman's body. PCOS can be the reason for excessive hair growth along with acne, irregular menstruation and a deeper voice. Ovulation is suppressed because of the hormonal imbalance, and instead of an egg being released from the ovary, a small cyst will form.
A link is thought to exist between excessive hair growth, insulin production and obesity. Studies have shown that when high levels of insulin are present in a woman's body, she is more likely to develop hirsutism. This ties in with the higher incidence of excessive hair growth in obese women, whose insulin tends to circulate at higher levels than normal and who often suffer from insulin resistance.
Hypertrichosis refers to excessive hair growth that affects both men and women. This condition can either be congenital, present at birth and caused by a genetic mutation, or it can develop later as a response to cancer or to drug side effects. Hypertrichosis can result either in hair that covers the whole body or hair that is limited to one area of the body.
If a woman experiences excessive hair growth that seems to come on suddenly, she needs to consult a medical professional. Serious medical conditions that can result in hirsutism include cancers or tumors of the ovaries or adrenal glands and Cushing's Syndrome, a disease in which the body makes too much cortisol. Sometimes the cause of excessive hair growth cannot be pinpointed, in which case the condition is said to be idiopathic, or unknown.