Facial Hair

Kelly Anne Spratt, D.O., Director of Women's Cardiovascular Health at the University of Pennsylvania Presbyterian Medical Center, answers your questions.

Q. As a young woman, I am very frustrated with the dark, coarse beard and mustache that I have developed over the past few years. I have to shave every morning or else I am too embarrased to go out. I have tried bleaching creams, but then I just have a blonde beard. I thought that maybe I did not produce enough estrogen, but I have overly large breasts for my weight, so I figured that female hormones are not my problem. However, I have never had regular menstrual cycles. In addition, I am also a diabetic, but in great control with the pump.

I am so embarrased by this condition. Is there anything to be done?

A. Facial hair on a woman is known as hirsutism and can be due to a glandular abnormality or can be genetic in etiology. If your mother has a lot of facial hair, you likely will have it as well. However, the fact that you have irregular periods and diabetes is likely due to a glandular abnormality. The two most likely causes include either an overproduction of the male hormone testosterone (which has no correlation to the size of your breasts) or an abnormality called polycystic ovary disease. Both of these can be easily diagnosed with blood tests and an ultrasound of your ovaries. With polycystic ovary disease, there are other associated syndromes including high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, and an increased risk of heart disease. Thus it is important to see if this is the diagnosis.

If you have hirsutism without an obvious cause, you can still have some relief by taking a medication called spironolactone, a water pill that has hormonal influences as well. Marked improvement has been seen in facial hair in women who take this medication and it is worth asking your doctor for more information regarding the blood tests, ultrasound of your ovaries, and even medication.