What is Hypertrichosis?

Mary McMahon

Hypertrichosis is excessive hair growth. People with this condition may have localized hypertrichosis, where one region of the body is unusually hairy, or a generalized form, with the whole body having more hair than usual. Different types of hair can be involved and the hair may be unusually long in addition to unusually dense. There are options available for treating hypertrichosis, although this condition is not hazardous and can be left untreated.

Some with hypertrichosis choose to shave their excessive body hair.
Some with hypertrichosis choose to shave their excessive body hair.

Documented cases of hypertrichosis date to the Middle Ages, when doctors noted several cases involving unusually hairy individuals, both men and women. This condition is distinct from hirsutism, a condition seen in women and children where male hair patterns including thick pubic hairs, chest hairs, and beards appear. People with hirsuitism develop excessive growth of terminal hairs, which are curly, dense, dark hairs like those seen in the armpits.

Laser treatment can be used to treat hypertrichosis.
Laser treatment can be used to treat hypertrichosis.

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Some people have congenital hypertrichosis caused by a genetic condition. Several families have a history of this condition and have been studied by researchers to learn more about the genes behind hypertrichosis. More commonly, this condition is acquired. People can develop excessive body hair in response to certain medications, as well as endocrine disruptions and some other conditions. Changes in body hair patterns may be used as a diagnostic sign by doctors looking for explanations for a patient's medical problem.

Sometimes referred to as “werewolf syndrome,” this condition is primarily an aesthetic problem, rather than a medical one. Having extra hair does not pose risks to people, although it can be an indicator of an underlying health problem. People who seek treatment usually do so because they find the excess hair socially undesirable. People with hypertrichosis tend to attract attention, especially if they are women, and in fact, historically, some people with this condition turned it to their advantage and exhibited themselves at sideshows and circuses.

Short term treatments can include shaving and applying depilatories to remove the hair. The hair will grow back, but these measures can provide temporary relief. It is also possible to use lasers and other permanent hair removal options to remove the hair and prevent it from growing back. Hair removal can be costly and painful, but once the hair removal sessions are complete, the patient will not experience a recurrence of the hair growth. Some insurance companies will cover these procedures, on the ground that the excessive hair is a quality of life issue that may contribute to psychological problems for the patient.

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