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 hirsuitism (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, hirsuitism, 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 hirsuitism – 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 hirsuitism 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: I hope you will discuss lactose intolerance. I am 60 and just developed it. – J.B.
ANSWER: Lactose is milk sugar. In our digestive tracts is an enzyme – lactase – that digests milk sugar. People with too little of the lactase enzyme have trouble when they drink or eat dairy products. Milk sugar doesn’t break down. The undigested sugar leads to gas production, stomach cramps and diarrhea.
Medical tests can confirm the dearth of the lactase enzyme.
Standard treatment of lactose intolerance (also called lactase deficiency) is avoidance of dairy products. Most cheeses have little lactose, so they can be eaten. Yogurt made from live cultures is usually tolerated.
Furthermore, many dairy products can be pretreated with lactase, and people with the intolerance are not bothered by such products. The lactase enzyme comes in pill and liquid forms. It can be added to milk or taken by mouth before eating or drinking dairy products.
I didn’t answer your unprinted question about a product that claims it is a cure for lactose intolerance. I visited many sites on the Internet but found only testimonials to it. I asked gastroenterologists – specialists in digestive-tract illnesses – about it, but none could give me a definite answer. I have to punt. I’ll keep looking for information and report on it when I find some.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I need to know what is considered normal when it comes to menstrual cycles. Please tell me. – R.K.
ANSWER: Most women have cycles that last from 21 to 35 days.
For 90 percent of menstruating women, bleeding lasts seven days.
A little more than 1 ounce of blood (30 to 35 ml) is lost with each cycle. That amount of bleeding requires three to five pads a day.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: A doctor told me to rinse my mouth with salt water before bedtime. I vaguely remember hearing how mobsters used salt to decay their victims before they buried them. Should I use the saltwater rinse? – J.K.
ANSWER: Are you sure about the mobster story? Salt is a preservative. One of humankind’s oldest ways of preventing meat from rotting has been to salt it. I don’t think salting a body causes it to decay faster.
You can safely rinse your mouth with salt water. Many people do.
Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from www.rbmamall.com