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Some women long to have long hair, and for others, hair is everything. But having hair that grows all over your body and out of control is nobody’s wish or dream, be it long or short term. This is what happens with those who are unfortunate to suffer from hypertrichosis, also known as Werewolf Syndrome.
It is also known as werewolf syndrome because of the physical appearance of the people who suffer from this disorder. Hypertrichosis can be acquired later in life, or present from birth (congenital). Alternatively, it can be classified based on the hair distribution pattern on the body.
Based on whether or not the abnormal hair growth is all over the body or confined to a specific area, hypertrichosis can be generalized or localized. It can also be classified based on whether or not it is acquired during lifetime or present from birth.
Congenital hypertrichosis is a form of the disorder that is extremely rare. It is present from birth, and is caused by genetic mutations. Unfortunately, due to the rarity of the disorder, researchers have not yet been able to isolate a specific gene (or molecular error) that could explain the mechanism of the disease. Either way, the congenital variant of the disease can be sub classified according – once again – to the pattern of hair spread. In congenital lanuginosa, the baby is covered with lanugo hair all over the body, except for the palms and soles. As he/she ages, the lanugo hair becomes thin and is shed, leaving only sparse areas of hair. If the hair distribution is prominent in the face and the upper body (for males), it is termed generalized hypertrichosis. If the hair is a type of mature hair (which is thick, coarse and fully pigmented), it is called terminal hypertrichosis. If the hair is only localized to the limbs, the condition is called circumscribed hypertrichosis. Hairy-elbow syndrome is a type of circumscribed hypertrichosis localized to the elbows.
Causes of acquired hypertrichosis include side effects of some drugs, some cancers and even some eating disorders (mechanism undefined). When it is localized, it can be caused by confined trauma and irritation to the affected area of the skin. Generalized hypertrichosis on the other hand can be a sign of an underlying internal malignancy.
It is believed that the first reported case of hypertrichosis was the man named Petrus Gonsalvus (1648) of the Canary Islands. In the patient’s family, were also other relatives suffering from the same disorder, namely his two daughters, his son and his grandchild. This highlight the underlining genetic predisposition to the disorder. The mechanism of excessive and uncontrolled hair growth in this disorder is not fully understood, but it is fairly believed that an explanation could lie in the 3 stages of hair cycle: the anagen phase (hair growth), the catagen phase (hair follicle death) and the telogen phase (hair shedding). If there is excessive stimulation during the anagen phase, uncontrolled air growth can occur.
Differences with Hirsutism
Women who suffer from endocrine problems such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or those who are on hormones (medications) or suffer from congenital adrenal hyperplasia are the ones most commonly affected by hirsutism.