At puberty, a girl's ovaries begin to produce a mix of female and male sex hormones. This causes hair to grow in the armpits and pubic area. Hirsutism can occur if the mix becomes unbalanced with too high a proportion of male sex hormones (androgens).

Hirsutism can be caused by:

  • Polycystic ovary syndrome. This common condition is caused by an imbalance of sex hormones that may result in irregular periods, obesity, infertility and sometimes multiple cysts on your ovaries.
  • Cushing's syndrome. Cushing's syndrome occurs when your body is exposed to high levels of the hormone cortisol. It can develop when your adrenal glands make too much cortisol, or it can occur from taking medications such as prednisone over a long period of time.
  • Congenital adrenal hyperplasia. This inherited condition is characterized by abnormal production of steroid hormones, including cortisol and androgen, by your adrenal glands.
  • Tumors. Rarely, an androgen-secreting tumor in the ovaries or adrenal glands may cause hirsutism.
  • Medications. Some medications can cause hirsutism. One such drug is danazol, which is used to treat women with endometriosis.

Sometimes, hirsutism can occur with no identifiable cause. This happens more frequently in certain populations, such as women of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and South Asian ancestry.

Feb. 19, 2014