All women shed hair, but excessive hair loss may actually be diagnosed as alopecia. Here’s what can cause it.
Shedding hair throughout the day is completely normal, particularly for women. In fact, according to the American Academy of Dermatology the average woman loses anywhere between 50 to 100 hairs a day! But there’s a big difference between shedding and alopecia, the clinical term for sudden, excessive hair loss. “You don’t have to have bald spots for your hair loss to be considered alopecia,” says Mona Gohara, MD, a dermatologist at Dermatology Physicians of Connecticut and associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, CT. This means that any significant hair loss that is abnormal for you can be alopecia, and a number of medical reasons may be behind it. Read on to find out what they are and how to deal with alopecia.
Your Alopecia May Be a Metabolic Issue
“A hormonal change, thyroid abnormality, iron deficiency, autoimmune issue [such as alopecia areata, a treatable but not curable condition where the immune system starts attacking hair follicles, resulting in sudden hair loss that often appears in circular bald patches near the scalp], or something in your blood could be causing the hair loss,” says Dr. Gohara. And while you may be predisposed to alopecia based on your genetics, women at higher risk for metabolic or hormone-based hair loss (called androgenetic alopecia) are those going through a major hormonal shift, such as postpartum and postmenopausal women. “Hormones play a huge role in both hair growth and hair thinning,” says Dr. Gohara.
Your Prescriptions May Be to Blame
Hair loss can also be caused by certain medications, including certain antidepressants, birth control pills, and retinol acne medication to name a few. “If you’ve started a new medication that has a hormonal bend to it, whether it’s meant to block or increase the production of certain hormones, be aware that hair loss may be one of the side effects,” says Dr. Gohara.
Some Hair Loss Can Be Temporary
What you think is alopecia may actually be something different called telogen effluvium, a reversible and temporary condition that causes hair loss after a stressful event. “Most of the hairs on our head are usually in the growing phase and about 10% is in the shedding phase,” explains Dr. Gohara. “When that cycle shifts, shedding outweighs the growing and as a result you can get a massive shed.” Things that may cause telogen effluvium include any physiologic (your hormones re-calibrating after having a baby) to emotional stress (things like dealing with a loss or navigating a new job or move). Telogen effluvium can even be a result of wear and tear to your hair, adds Dr. Gohara, such as breakage and hair loss from coloring and the overuse of heat tools over an extended period of time.
How to Handle Hair Loss
Losing tons of hair suddenly can be stressful (which then may stress you out enough to lose even more hair), but the best thing you can do if you suspect you may be dealing with alopecia or any type of hair loss is to make an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist. “Hair loss is not something that’s cut and dry,” says Dr. Gohara. “You need a dermatologist to help you identify the cause to find the best treatment for you.” For example, in the case of a thyroid abnormality, your dermatologist and general practitioner will work together to fix your thyroid, or if your medication is causing hair loss you may be advised to stop or switch medications to a different formula or dose. “For an autoimmune issue like alopecia areata, you have a number of treatment options, from getting steroid injections into the scalp or another topical medication, while hormone-based hair loss can be helped by array of medications, including finasteride, spironolactone, and minoxidil,” says Dr. Gohara.
This article is not medical advice. It is intended for general informational purposes and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your physician or dial 911.
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