Hypertrichosis: Types, Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment

Hypertrichosis is a condition that causes abnormal hair growth on the body. This condition is also known as werewolf syndrome. People suffering from hypertrichosis often suffer mental stress due to embarrassment. Experts believe that hypertrichosis is mainly caused due to mutation in genes and is not related to male hormones. Hypertrichosis is a rare condition that affects one in 340 million people. With this ratio only 50 people in world are reported to have hypertrichosis. This article explains the causes, symptoms and treatment option for hypertichosis.

What is Hypertrichosis?

Hypertrichosis is a condition characterised by excessive hair growth on any part of the body. Hypertrichosis causes abnormal hair growth that may not be androgen-dependant. And, the hair growth is too much compared to other individual of same age, race and sex. Hypertrichosis is totally different than hirsutism that mainly affects females. In hirsutism females show excessive hair growth in androgen-dependent areas with male pattern distribution. Hypertrichosis can be present at birth or may develop later in life.

History of Hypertrichosis

The first case of hypertrichosis was documented in the 17th century by Aldrovandus. He identified a person named Petrus Gonzales with hypertrichosis in 1948. Originally from the canary island, Petrus Gonzales and his family members including daughters who suffered from hypertrichosis were brought to France. Over next 300 years some more cases of hypertrichosis were identified. Several scientists studied this rare disorder that later kept evolving with different terminologies as hypertrichosis universalis , hypertrichosis of the dog-men,  ambras syndrome or werewolf syndrome.

What Causes Hypertrichosis?

Hypertrichosis can be either inherited or acquired.  Hypertrichosis that a baby has since birth is mainly caused due to mutation in genes and is known as Congenital Hypertrichosis. The ape man was believed to carry certain genes that caused excessive body hair. Over time with evolution these genes disappeared. However, in rare conditions these genes make a reappearance causing Congenital Hypertrichosis. Experts believe that there is excessive stimulation of hair follicles without any abnormal levels of androgens.

Acquired hypertrichosis can develop anytime during lifetime and the main causes include,

  • Malnutrition
  • Eating disorder
  • Cancer
  • Medications such as androgenic steroids or the hair-growth promoting agent minoxidil

hypertrichosis-info-graphic

Symptoms of Hypertrichosis

The most common symptom of any type of hypertrichosis is excessive hair growth. However the density of hair can vary in individuals with different type of hair growth such as lanugo, vellous or terminal hairs.

Lanugo: Lanugo refers to long and unmedullated hairs. This type of hair is very soft and has no pigment. It does not appear distinct against the skin. Lanugo is seen on the skin of new born. It usually goes on its own over some time. However, in case of hypertrichosis lanugo does not disappear and needs treatment.

Vellous: Vellous hairs are unmedullated, soft and lightly pigmented. This type of hair is usually present on the new borns face. Vellous hairs have short hair follicles.

Terminal hairs: These are produced by follicles and appear very dense. Terminal hairs contain pigment and hence are dark in colour. The length of hair may vary depending on the area.

Other symptoms associated with Hypertrichosis include,

  • Enlarged gums
  • Missing teeth
  • Intellective delay
  • Epilepsy
  • malformation features
  • Abnormalities of eyes, heart, bones and kidneys

Types of Hypertrichosis

Hypertrichosis is broadly classified in two types as congenital and acquired. Both congenital and acquired hypertrichosis is further divided into subtypes based on the location of excessive hair growth.

  1. Congenital hypertrichosis
    Congenital hypertrichosis is caused while the baby is in the womb and occurs due to genetic mutations. The subtypes of congenital hypertrichosis include,Hypertrichosis Lanuginosa: This is characterized by the presence of fine non-pigmented hair that is present at birth. The hair is distributed all over the body except for the palms, soles, lips, and mucous membranes.

    Hypertrichosis terminalis: This type shows excessive growth of thick, dark, and dense hair all over the body.

    Localized Hypertrichosis: This type shows abnormal hair growth in specific areas of the body.

    Circumscribed Hypertrichosis: This is characterised by heavy hair growth that occurs only on the upper part of the body.

    Nevoid Hypertrichosis: This is similar to localized hypertrichosis and presents as patches of hair growth at specific body location.

  2. Acquired hypertrichosis
    Acquired hypertrichosis develops later in life. It could be caused by certain diseases or factors such as poor diet or intake of specific medications. Acquired hypertrichosis can also have subtypes such as hypertrichosis lanuginosa, generalized hypertrichosis, and patterned hair growth.
  3. Hirsutism
    Hirsutism is a type of hypertrichosis that is characterised by excessive hair growth. However, it is seen only women and is totally androgen dependant. It shows excess growth of hair with male pattern in areas such as upper lip or chin where women are unlikely to have hair under normal condition.

Treatment Options for Hypertrichosis

Since congenital hypertrichosis has genetic origin, it does not have any permanent cure. If acquired hypertrichosis is caused by external factors such as eating disorder, or intake of medication, it can be prevented by making lifestyle change or avoiding the intake of medication.  The hair growth that occurs in congenital hypertrichosis can be treated using some temporary or permanent methods of hair removal. The treatment of excess hair in hypertrichosis can be done through following methods.

  1. Temporary hair removal methods
    Hair removal methods such as waxing, shaving, plucking or depilation can be used to get rid of unwanted hair. Fine or non-pigmented hair can be covered by skin bleaches. However these methods remove the hair only for a short time and may require frequent repetitions. These methods may not feasible to use on some of the body parts. Frequent plucking or threading of hair can also cause skin irritation and pain.
  2. Permanent hair removal methods
    Electrolysis or laser hair removal can be used to remove the unwanted excess hair from body for a long period of time. Repeat sessions of these methods may also lead to permanent hair removal.

Electrolysis

Electrolysis involves inserting a fine electrical wire into the hair shaft to destroy the papilla with an electric current. It needs to be done by an experienced and qualified professional only.

Laser hair removal

Laser hair removal method uses a high energy light beam for hair removal. This laser beam passes through the skin layers and targets the hair follicle. The heat of the light beam then destroys the hair follicles and makes the hair weak which then falls out. The damaged hair follicle loses its ability to produce any further hair for a long time and sometimes it results in permanent hair reduction. However, for permanent hair reduction repeated sessions of laser therapy are needed.

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