Werewolf Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Werewolf Syndrome or Hypertrichosis | Causes, Symptoms,Treatment

Hypertrichosis, the scientific name of Ambras Syndrome, commonly known as Werewolf Syndrome, is a rare genetic disorder that causes excessive hair growth anywhere on a person’s body. The rare condition has left doctors and researchers in a puzzle over centuries because of its bizarre causes, symptoms and other facts.

What is Hypertrichosis?

In healthy individual hair follicles are enclosed in the skin with the exception of the palms, lips and soles. Hypertrichosis is defined as an abnormal amount of hair growth over the body[1]. Hypertrichosis has been informally referred to as Werewolf Syndrome due to the appearance similar to the mythical creature werewolf. However, Hypertrichosis has no genetic connection to the wolves. You might hear Hypertrichosis Lanuginosa by different names such as uncontrollable hair syndrome, wolfman syndrome, wolfman disease, human werewolf syndrome, and the list continues.

You might have known about this syndrome before, not through these names but surely in movies like Van Helsing, The Twilight Saga, and The Wolfman. There are more than 35 movies that somehow portrays the werewolf, but it is not actually as Hollywood or fictions depicts it to be. This disorder is easy to diagnose, and doctors and genetic experts have proposed several theories and explanations behind the causes, symptoms, and treatment of werewolf syndrome.

But before I tell you everything, let’s find out some interesting facts about werewolf syndrome.

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Facts about Werewolf Syndrome

Congenital Hypertrichosis Lanuginosa is extremely rare. Fewer than 100 cases of Hypertrichosis have been documented in scientific literature and media reports, says Xue Zhang, a geneticist at Peking Union Medical College in Beijing[2]. Some facts about werewolf syndrome:

  • Hypertrichosis or Werewolf Syndrome is a rare genetic disorder marked by the abnormal growth of hair on the body.
  • The hair may grow either to only one area or spread throughout the body.
  • Some inherit this disorder by birth, and it is termed as ‘congenital werewolf syndrome.
  • Congenital werewolf syndrome can be classified as hypertrichosis lanuginosa, generalised hypertrichosis, terminal hypertrichosis, localised hypertrichosis, nevoid hypertrichosis, and circumscribed hypertrichosis and so on, depending upon the areas where hair grows abnormally.
  • There’s still no ultimate cure for this disorder. However, there are certain drugs which might slow the rate of hair growth.
  • It’s usually a cosmetic problem. Hence you can perform laser surgery or electrolysis to get rid of the unwanted hairs from your face and body.

Werewolf Syndrome Causes

There can be many different causes of this disorder, like congenital hypertrichosis and acquired hypertrichosis. The overall cause of hypertrichosis is still unknown. Scientists consider hypertrichosis as a form of genetic disorder which arise due to spontaneous mutation in the DNA sequence. It is known that the mutation leading to congenital generalised hypertrichosis is located between Xq24-q27 regions of the X-chromosome[3]. The condition can happen to both men and women. Though the causes aren’t well understood, some possible causes can be porphyria cutanea tarda, a condition where your skin is sensitive to light, malnutrition, and cancer. Anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder, is also believed to be a possible cause.

The only explainable cause of this syndrome is a genetic mutation. The genes that control and stimulate hair growth to undergo alteration, leading hairs to grow abnormally on the body. Congenital hypertrichosis is inherited in the family, whereas acquired or generalised hypertrichosis might develop later in a person’s life. Some of the possible causes for a person to suffer acquired hypertrichosis include[4]:

  • Autoimmune diseases or infections during the early age
  • Reaction to certain drugs like hair regenerating drugs or immunosuppressant or androgenic steroids.
  • Cell mutation or cancer
  • Malnutrition or poor diet
  • Anorexia and other eating disorders

Other causes of hypertrichosis might include a rare condition known as Porphyria cutanea tarda. It results in the skin to go sensitive to UV rays and trigger the abnormal growth of hair all over the exposed body[5]. Another underlying cause might be due to certain chronic skin conditions like lichen simplex. Lichen simplex is another rare skin disorder that results in rashes and itchiness in a particular area of the skin, and this might also trigger hypertrichosis. Certain androgenic drugs like hair growing minoxidil or cyclosporine can also cause werewolf syndrome.

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Discovery of Werewolf Disease

According to various source on the internet, the first recorded case of Congenital Hypertrichosis Lanuginosa was Petrus Gonzales of the Canary Islands[6]. Altrovandus documented this in the mid-17th century and published in his text Monstrorum Historia cum Paralipomenis Historiae Omnium Animalium published in 1642.

Types of Hypertrichosis

There are various types of hypertrichosis which are categorized according to when and how a person develops the condition[7].

  1. Congenital Hypertrichosis Lanuginosa

This type of hypertrichosis first appears as a normal lanugo, fine, soft hair, especially that covers the body and limbs of a human fetus. It appears as the fine hair found on a baby at birth, but rather than disappearing after weeks; the hair continues to grow in various places on the baby’s body. This hypertrichosis is noticeable at birth; it doesn’t affect the baby’s hands and feet. As the child gets older, the thinning of hair can happen, leaving small pieces of hypertrichosis.

  1. Generalised Hypertrichosis

This kind of hypertrichosis causes men to have excessive facial hair and hair at the upper body. Women get less severe hair affects as compared to men. Generalised hypertrichosis does not affect the hands and feet.

  1. Congenital Hypertrichosis Terminalis

The baby is not born with lanugo or vellus hair but may have terminal hair at birth, which keeps growing throughout life. Vellus hair is usually soft, short and faintly pigmented. This may appear all over the body except the areas where there are no hair follicles such as the palm of hands, soles of the feet. Terminal hairs are the darkest types of hair, which is usually thick, coarse and long. You can find this hair typically on the face, armpits, and groin.

  1. Nevoid Hypertrichosis

It may be present at birth or can also happen in life later. It is not related to any other disease, and there is an area of excessive terminal hair growth. Terminal hair appears in a defined area and few cases more than one patch of hair is present. Unibrow, very solid and bushy monobrow, is a typical example of nevoid hypertrichosis.

  1. Hirsutism

This hypertrichosis limits to women affecting up to 10 percent of women. The women develop coarse terminal hairs in a typical male hair-growth distribution pattern like on the chest and chin. It is often due to hormone imbalance.

  1. Acquired Hypertrichosis

Acquired Hypertrichosis develops later in life, which results in the development of two types of hair: vellus hair or terminal hair. Excess hair grows in small patches or all hair-growing areas of the body. By avoiding the use of certain drugs which results in hypertrichosis, the risk of acquired hypertrichosis can be reduced.

Werewolf Syndrome Symptoms

The one peculiar symptom of werewolf syndrome is abnormal growth of hair on your body, particularly on the face and other exposed areas, resembling like a werewolf[8]. A person suffering from this disorder produces three types of hair.

The hypertrichosis can result in three different kinds of hair[9]:

  1. Lanugo 

Lanugo hair is thin, long very soft hair similar to the hair on the body of a newborn baby. This types of hair typically have no pigments and usually disappears and fall out within a few weeks after birth. On people with hypertrichosis, the lanugo hair doesn’t fall out and remain in the body until it’s treated.

  1. Vellus

Vellus, which is a short hair located in particular areas of your body such as the back of your ears, lips, palms, scar tissue, and so on. This hair is usually soft, short and faintly pigmented, and these hairs appear all over the body. Vellus hair doesn’t appear in parts where there are no hair follicles such as the mucous membranes, soles of the feet and palm of hands.

  1. Terminal

Terminal hair is the darkest of all three hair types, and it is often thick, coarse and long hair. You can find this hair on the face, armpits, and groin. It usually associates with hormones.

Symptoms like missing gums or enlarged gums also characterize Werewolf syndrome. Often mistaken for Hirsutism, which is a disorder affecting women where they suffer unwanted growth of hair on their face and body in male-pattern, typically on the face, chest, and back[10].

Werewolf Syndrome Treatment

Hypertrichosis, unlike other diseases, is an extremely rare disorder and until now, only 50 cases of this syndrome have been recorded. Hirsutism, on the other hand, is prevalent in nearly 10% of the female population in the U.S. alone. Since werewolf syndrome is rare and unusual, there’s no cure for this disorder. The treatment only involves managing the symptoms and removing the hair from the affected areas. There are some home remedies you can do at home or clinical methods[11] [12].

The only treatment for this disorder is removing the unusual hair through cosmetic surgery. And other methods that include: shaving, chemical epilation, laser surgery, waxing, bleaching, and so on.

Laser surgery involves the application of special laser light over several hairs at one time. Hair loss can often be permanent with these treatments, though you may need a few sessions to complete the job.

Home Treatment

The home treatment includes some basic hair removal strategies that you can do at home. The home treatment consists of some short-term methods of hair removal such as shaving, plucking, waxing, bleaching, and chemical epilation. You can shave or pluck the hair from the affected areas. You can remove the hair by waxing the hair from affected parts of the body. Bleaching of the hair changes the shades of the hair giving a lighter shade, but bleaching can damage your hair. Chemical epilation means using chemicals to weaken the hair by breaking the disulfide bonds in the hair keratin. The breaking of enough chemical bonds makes it possible to rub or scrap the hair emerging from the follicle. There are different hair removal creams for chemical epilation.

These temporary solutions can minimise the appearance of hair in the area, but the hair will grow back again. Also, these methods can cause skin irritation and cause rashes. Moreover, these techniques are hard to apply in certain regions of the body.

Clinical Method

A proposed clinical method for treatment of hair is Electrolysis or laser treatment. Although there are multiple conflicting reports regarding the effectiveness of the treatment. Littler found that there is 40-80 percent reduction in unwanted hair after using the Q-switched laser after application of a topical carbon-based solution. This method of hair treatment has less pain during the treatment compared to home treatments. Neodymium: YAG (Nd:YAG) laser subsequent to an application of a topical carbon-based solution treats the affected areas. The electrical charges destroy the individual hair follicles. The treatment may result in permanent hair loss for some people, through patients might need multiple sessions of the treatment to achieve the desired result. This is a safe and effective method for reducing hair density. Electrolysis or laser treatment is an attractive method for children due to the low associated pain during treatment.

Can We Prevent Hypertrichosis?

Several ways are there to prevent Hypertrichosis. You can avoid acquired hypertrichosis, but not the congenital hypertrichosis. You can prevent the acquired hypertrichosis by avoiding the use of certain drugs that cause the condition. Weightlifters and bodybuilders can avoid the use of anabolic steroids to prevent acquired hypertrichosis from occurring. Avoiding such androgenic steroids, hair growth drugs, and certain immunosuppressant can reduce the risk of developing acquired hypertrichosis[13].

Now, as you came to know that you cannot prevent congenital hypertrichosis and you can reduce the risk of acquired hypertrichosis. Is there a treatment to hypertrichosis?


Jumping to the end, Congenital Hypertrichosis Lanuginosa is informally called werewolf syndrome, because of the appearance similar to the mythical werewolf. Congenital Hypertrichosis Lanuginosa (CHL) is an extremely rare skin disease which causes an excessive amount of hairiness, and it is usually present at the birth. This disease is extremely rare. The acquired hypertrichosis can be prevented, but the congenital hypertrichosis is out of control.  You might hear CHL by different names such as uncontrollable hair syndrome, wolfman syndrome, wolfman disease, human werewolf syndrome.

Werewolf Syndrome or Hypertrichosis
Werewolf Syndrome or Hypertrichosis infographic

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[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4526284/

[2] https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17176-wolf-man-condition-down-to-huge-dna-malfunction/#.VYr0z_l3lhE

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4526284/

[4] https://www.dermnetnz.org/topics/hypertrichosis/

[5] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320048.php

[6] https://www.medicalbag.com/home/features/profile-in-rare-diseases/werewolf-syndrome-congenital-hypertrichosis-lanuginosa/

[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4526284/

[8] https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/2865/hypertrichosis-lanuginosa-congenita

[9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4526284/

[10] https://www.aafp.org/afp/2012/0215/p373.html

[11] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12444804

[12] https://www.dermnetnz.org/topics/hypertrichosis/

[13] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8018303

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