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Up to 60 per cent of hirsute women believe that hair growth has an impact on the way they perceive themselves, with 68 per cent avoiding social situations.

Approximately 25 per cent of hirsute patients have psychiatric disturbances.1 The presence of unwanted facial hair is a particularly distressing symptom because this is visible to others.

Women with PCOS and other hormone conditions that cause unwanted hair growth may also have acne, problems with menstrual periods, trouble losing weight, and diabetes.

PCOS is a subcategory of androgen excess or excess male hormone, the most common hormone disorder, which affects about 10 percent of women.

"If you do the math, at least half the women with excess hair growth will be at increased risk for insulin resistance, metabolic dysfunction, diabetes and heart disease.

That is why this is such an important marker," Azziz said.

When Savage replied that she had tried watching her diet and exercising, only to pack on more pounds, it was clear they simply didn't believe her. "I would eat like my sister, and I would gain weight but she wouldn't," recalled Savage, a civil engineer who lives in Montgomery County and turns 31 next month.

Savage's inexorable weight gain, which began in middle school and resulted in obesity, was not her only problem: For years, she also struggled with eruptions of painful acne and facial hair. Last year, after Savage had trouble getting pregnant, an inability she suspected was linked to her irregular periods, she consulted a new obstetrician/gynecologist.