DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I’m a 26-year-old woman with an embarrassing problem. I’m growing a mustache. What causes this? I have started to shave, but I worry that shaving is going to make the hair grow faster and coarser. I see some hair on my breasts, too. What can I do about this? — V.K.
ANSWER: Hair growth in females in places where it should be found only in males is hirsutism (HERE-suit-izm). Such areas include the skin above the upper lip, the chin, the chest, the thighs, the upper back and the abdomen. Hair in those places is sensitive to the action of male hormones. Common causes for such hair growth are idiopathic (a definite cause not found), menopause (when female hormone production dips) and polycystic ovary syndrome.
Polycystic ovary syndrome is fairly common. Signs of it are a diminution or complete stoppage of menstrual periods, hirsutism, obesity and large ovaries with many cysts. One of the mechanisms responsible for some polycystic ovary symptoms is an overproduction of androgen — male hormones. The unwanted pattern of hair growth stems from androgen excess.
Idiopathic hirsutism — hair growth without a cause found — might be a mild form of polycystic ovary syndrome. That’s a popular theory expounded by many experts.
Rarer causes of hirsutism include adrenal gland overactivity, tumors of the adrenal gland or ovary, pituitary gland tumors and some prescription medicines.
You’re not going to solve this on your own. You need a doctor to evaluate your hormone status. The appropriate treatment hinges on finding a specific cause.
When a cause cannot be found, shaving, electrolysis, depilatories (chemical hair removers) and laser treatments are options. Shaving doesn’t make hair grow faster or coarser.
Vaniqa cream, a prescription item, gets rid of unwanted hair quite well. Birth-control pills work when a woman needs estrogen. Spironolactone, a water pill, can counter the influence of male hormones and is often useful.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: What is the appropriate time interval for a repeat colonoscopy? I have different information from doctors. I had my first colonoscopy when I was 51. The doctor who performed it said I didn’t need another until I was 61. A different doctor says I need a repeat at 56. Which is it? — E.P.
ANSWER: If no polyps were found on your first exam and if you have no close relatives who have had colon cancer, then the usual time for the next exam is 10 years. Otherwise, it is five years.
The booklet on colon cancer explains its detection and treatment. Readers can order a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue — No. 505W, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Canada with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: This is a silly question, but I’d like to know: Why do men spit so much? Baseball players do it all the time. — L.L.
ANSWER: I don’t know. It might be a habit. Baseball players get dried out and their saliva thickens. That’s one reason they spit. Some chew tobacco. Another reason.