Background: Hirsutism has a relatively high prevalence among women. Depending upon societal and ethnic norms, it can cause significant psychosocial distress. Importantly, hirsutism may be associated with underlying disorders and co-morbidities. Hirsutism should not simply be looked upon as an issue of cosmesis. Patients require appropriate evaluation so that underlying etiologies and associated sequelae are recognized and managed. Treatment of hirsutism often requires a multidisciplinary approach, and a variety of physical or pharmacologic modalities can be employed. Efficacy of these therapies is varied and depends, among other things, upon patient factors including the underlying etiology, hormonal drive, and local tissue sensitivity to androgens.
Objective: The objective of this paper is to review and summarize current evidence evaluating the efficacy of various treatment modalities for hirsutism in premenopausal women.
Methods: Online databases were searched to identify all relevant prior systematic reviews and meta-analyses as well as recently published (2012-present) randomized controlled trials (RCTs) on hirsutism treatment.
Results: Four recently published RCTs met criteria for inclusion in our review. In addition, one meta-analysis and one systematic review/treatment guideline were identified in the recent literature. Physical modalities and oral contraceptive pills (OCPs) remain first-line treatments. Evidence supports the use of electrolysis for permanent hair removal in localized areas and lasers (particularly alexandrite and diode lasers) for permanent hair reduction. Topical eflornithine can be used as monotherapy for mild hirsutism and as an adjunct therapy with lasers or pharmacotherapy in more severe cases. Combined OCPs as a class are superior to placebo; however, antiandrogenic and low-dose neutral OCPs may be slightly more efficacious in improving hirsutism compared with other types of OCPs. Antiandrogens are indicated for moderate to severe hirsutism, with spironolactone being the first-line antiandrogen and finasteride and cyproterone acetate being second-line antiandrogens. Due to its risk for hepatotoxicity, flutamide is not considered a first-line therapy. If used, the lowest effective dose should be administered with careful monitoring of liver enzymes. Monotherapy with an insulin sensitizer does not significantly improve hirsutism. While insulin sensitizers improve important metabolic and endocrine aberrations in polycystic ovary syndrome, they are not recommended when hirsutism is the sole indication for use. Lifestyle modification counseling is recommended. Gonadotropin-releasing hormone analogs and glucocorticoids are only recommended in specific circumstances. Additional therapies without sufficient supportive evidence of efficacy are ovarian surgery, statins (HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors), and vitamin D supplementation.
Limitations: In general, most therapies garner recommendations that are weak (where the estimates of benefits versus risks of therapy are either closely balanced or uncertain) and are based on low- to moderate-quality evidence.
Conclusions: Risks and benefits of treatment must be carefully considered and discussed with the patient. Expectations for efficacy should be appropriately set. A minimum of 6 months is required to see benefit from pharmacotherapy and lifelong treatment is often necessary for sustained benefit.