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Keywords:

  • hirsutism;
  • laser;
  • polycystic ovary syndrome;
  • randomized controlled trial

Summary

Background  Facial hirsutism is one of the characteristic features of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and this can lead to high levels of depression and anxiety.

Objectives  To evaluate the impact of laser treatment on the severity of facial hirsutism and on psychological morbidity in women with PCOS.

Methods  A randomized controlled trial of five high-fluence treatments (intervention) vs. five low-fluence treatments (control) was performed over 6 months in a National Health Service teaching hospital. Subjects were 88 women with facial hirsutism due to PCOS recruited from hospital outpatient clinics and a patient support group in 2001–2002. The main outcomes were self-reported severity of facial hair (measured on a scale of 1–10), depression, anxiety (measured on the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale) and quality of life (measured on the WHOQOL-BREF).

Results  Self-reported severity of facial hair in the intervention group (n = 51) fell from 7·3 to 3·6 over the 6-month study period; for the control group (n = 37) the corresponding scores were 7·1 and 6·1. The change was significantly greater in the intervention group [ancova F(1,83) = 24·5, P < 0·05]. Self-reported time spent on hair removal declined from 112 to 21 min per week in the intervention group and from 92 to 56 min in the control group [F(1,80) = 10·2, P ≤ 0·05]. Mean depression scores fell from 6·7 to 3·6 in the intervention group, compared with 6·1 to 5·4 in the control group [F(1,83) = 14·7, P < 0·05]. A similar change was seen for mean anxiety scores: intervention 11·1 to 8·2, control 9·6 to 9·3 [F(1,84) = 17·8, P < 0·05]. Psychological quality of life also improved more in the intervention group, from 49·6 to 61·2 vs. 50·1 to 51·5 in the control group [F(1,84) = 10·9, P < 0·05].

Conclusions  Laser treatment appeared to reduce the severity of facial hair and time spent on hair removal as well as alleviating depression and anxiety in women with PCOS. These findings suggest that ways of making this method of hair removal more widely available to women with facial hirsutism should be considered.