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Hypertrichosis is otherwise known as werewolf syndrome. The cause is very simple – the disease is distinguished by the presence of excessive hair, which appears in every area of the body. It is a rare condition that affects both men and women of different age ranges. Noteworthy is the fact that the condition does not have an endocrine basis. What are its causes?

What is hypertrichosis?

Hypertrichosis is a relatively rare condition characterized by excessive body hair. The disease was first identified and described in the 17th century. Hypertrichosis patients were a social “element” and were excluded from society or treated as a freak of nature fit to be shown in a circus. Some scientific sources say that the first references to werewolves (still from ancient times), are about this disease. The most famous case of hypertrichosis includes Julia Pastrana, who lived in Mexico in the 19th century.

julia pastrana

Julia Pastrana, George Wick, public domain, Wikimedia Commons

The woman was abandoned by her mother as a child, so the child ended up in an orphanage in the 19th century. When she grew up she was bought and married by Theodor Lenta, whose goal was to make money from the woman’s illness. It was an attraction for audiences in North America and later in Europe. Julia not only had excessive hair, but also overgrown gums. She gave birth to a son who most likely also suffered from werewolf syndrome.

As a result of complications from childbirth (just like her son), she died at the age of 26. However, Lent did not want to give up his earnings, so he ordered the body of his deceased wife and son to be stuffed. For many years they were exhibits in museums, until Sinaloa State Governor Mario Lopez Valdez ordered Julia and her son to be buried in 2012.

The condition can take two forms – generalized(the problem is excessive hair all over the body) and localized(the trouble affects only certain parts of the body). In addition, werewolf syndrome can be divided according to the cause of its occurrence:

  • Congenital hypertrichosis, which is caused by a gene mutation – in which case treatment is not possible,
  • Acquired hypertrichosis, or secondary hypertrichosis, which has a basis in diseases, medications used, eating disorders. Then the changes are reversible and can be cured.

Hypertrichosis is often confused with hirsutism – but it is not the same condition. The difference is, among other things. Hair localization and hormone dependence. Hirsutism has a hormonal basis and is related to the rise of androgens, marking the appearance of male-type hair in women. It occurs on the face, chest and around the nipples. Polycystic ovary syndrome and Cushing’s syndrome are considered direct causes of hirsutism. The cause of hypertrichosis is not always known. Usually, family tendencies towards localized, excessive hair or side effects of medications are considered the reason for its occurrence.

What are the causes of hypertrichosis?

Doctors still have trouble pinpointing the exact cause of hypertrichosis. The condition accompanies specific genetic syndromes – for example, Ambras or Cantu syndrome, which are distinguished not only by excessive hairiness, but also by enlargement of the heart or bone abnormalities.

The cause of the problem is not only a family predisposition or the use of certain drugs – contraceptives and phenytoin. The disease accompanies the course of anorexia, and can also be a symptom accompanying cancer.

Genetic hypertrichosis is caused by a mutation in the SOX3 gene. The result is the presence of hair in much larger quantities than is the case in a healthy person – dense, strong and intensely colored.

What are the symptoms of hypertrichosis?

Hypertrichosis is distinguished by excessive hair that is localized on various parts of the body. It can be seen not only in areas where hair is already present (on the head, legs, underarms or intimate areas), but also in areas that are not hairy in healthy people – the hands or forehead. Typically, the symptom of hypertrichosis is terminal hair – dark, coarse hair, typical of perineal hair, and follicular hair, which is short and soft. In patients, thin follicular hair transforms into dark terminal hair. Often, there is also a so-called “incidence”. Lungo, the equivalent of fetal miasma, which covers the fetus – and sometimes the body of a newborn in the first days of birth.

The strongest phase of hypertrichosis is just terminal, which also manifests itself:

  • dental disorder and overgrown gums,
  • Advancing the mouth,
  • wide, flat nose,
  • enlarged head in relation to the whole body.

Depending on the direct cause of hypertrichosis, other symptoms can be seen – abdominal obesity, menstrual disorders, acne and stretch marks. In children, hypertrichosis, on the other hand, is the result of hormonal disorders and can be a symptom of polycystic ovarian syndrome or congenital adrenal hyperplasia.

What genetic syndromes cause hypertrichosis?

Genetic diseases and hereditary endocrine disorders in the course of which hypertrichosis is the only symptom include:

  • Ambras syndrome, or congenital generalized excessive hairiness of the male type. The disease consists of dark hair on the upper half of the body, as well as less intense hair on the rest of the body. The syndrome is genetically inherited.
  • Congenital generalized excessive hairiness classified as type 2 (atavism). This is a relapse to the hair typical of animals.
  • Cantu syndrome – a genetic disease, during the course of which there are other symptoms besides hypertrichosis – bone and cartilage abnormalities of the skeleton.
  • gum fibrosis.

What is the treatment of hypertrichosis?

The treatment process for generalized hypertrichosis, which has a genetic basis and is caused by a gene mutation, is impossible to implement. Then the excessive hair can only be shaved systematically or cosmetic treatments – wax, laser or chemical hair removal.

If one has secondary hypertrichosis as a result of endocrine disorders, then treatment is selected according to the cause of the disease. In the case of Cantu syndrome, acromegaly or other endocrine syndromes, drug treatment is used. When, on the other hand, it is an ovarian tumor – then the intervention of a surgeon is required.

Does hypertrichosis affect the psyche?

Hypertrichosis can have a huge impact on the psyche of children and adults. The ailments that accompany it draw public attention and cause discomfort. This in turn often leads to emotional troubles and low self-esteem. To understand this phenomenon, it is worthwhile to carefully analyze the impact of hypertrichosis on the psyche of children and adults, as well as the possibility of psychological support.

Children suffering from hypertrichosis experience a variety of mental problems. The patients do not understand the reason for derision or ridicule from their peers. They lead to alienation, anxiety and even depression, so hypertrichosis in children can have very negative and serious consequences.

In adults, the disease causes various dysfunctions and psychological disorders as it introduces discomfort and affects interpersonal relationships. Those affected by the condition feel tension in their relationships with others and fear rejection from their partner. This, in turn, is a common cause of anxiety and mood swings.

Do a lot of people suffer from hypertrichosis?

As many as 17 to 18 children and infants are estimated to have contracted the condition in August 2019. This was due to an accidental change of pharmacological substances. A mistake was made by a pharmaceutical company – parents were given a drug for their children’s stomach ailments. It was supposed to be omeprazole, but they were really giving their kids minoxidil – a preparation for hair growth. After taking the drugs, the children began to grow hair very quickly all over their bodies – including on their faces. Misbranded drugs have made their way to Valencia, Andalusia and Cantabria. The substances quickly began to be withdrawn from pharmacies.

Usually, however, the disease is rare, but affects both men and women of different ages.

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