Hair loss is generally considered a male issue, so when women begin to experience hair thinning and hair loss it can be traumatic.
Hair growth is dependent on so many factors, it seems surprising that it takes place as uniformly as it does. The human head has, on average, 100,000 hairs growing from the scalp. Every one of those hairs grow – in fact, hair is the second fastest growing tissue our body produces, second only to bone marrow.
Ninety percent of our hair strands grow actively, while 10 percent go into a dormant or inactive phase at any given time. This is the cycle that is inherent in normal hair growth, but hair needs certain conditions in order for it to continue the normal growth cycle, and there are enough obstacles out there to interfere with hair growth or cut it off entirely. A genetic predisposition to hair loss and pattern balding is one familiar cause of hair loss, but hardly the only cause.
When hair loss begins, researchers have discovered that the telogen (dormant ) phase that normally affects only a small percentage of hairs is happening in excess. With normal hair growth, the majority of our hair is in the anagen phase, which means each hair is securely held in its follicle and will grow actively for three to seven years. At any given time, 10 percent of our hair strands go into a two-week catagen phase in which the follicle dies, and then a dormant or telogen phase for three months during which time it sheds. As these follicles become active again, others begin to go into the catagen phase, a cycle that is continuously repeating. For any number of reasons, much larger numbers of hairs than normal can go into the telogen phase, causing alopecia (balding).
One way to determine if you are losing hair because of an excess telogen phase is the “tug test.” Take a few strands of hair and pull firmly and slowly to see if they come out at the root. If they seem to be coming out too easily and in volume, it is probably time to talk to your doctor or a hair treatment specialist to find out the underlying cause.
Sometimes stress, certain medications, and even childbirth can explain unexpected hair loss. Illness, injury, high fever, surgery, nutritional deficiencies, rapid weight loss – all of these can affect hair growth. Changes in hormones can also effect hair growth negatively, as can certain thyroid disorders. And while many drugs list hair loss as a possible side effect, the most common medications in which it occurs include Accutane, Altace, and some anticonvulsant drugs such as Klonopin and Valproic Acid.
Other drugs that may be less likely to cause hair loss in most people who take them, but nonetheless have been identified as a cause in some people are Acyclovir, Cyclosporin, Lupron, some anti-arrhythmia medications, high doses of Naproxen, and some antidepressants including Effexor, Paxil, and Zoloft.
Hair loss caused by chemotherapy medications usually happens within seven to 14 days after treatment begins, and the chemo drugs cause hair to fall out during the active growth anagen phase.
Luckily, hair loss caused by any of these events, also known as telogen effluvium phase hair loss, is temporary. Hair usually grows back within six months of the initial hair loss, although for some people it takes years to for their hair to fully recover, probably due to new stressors affecting growth.
Female pattern balding is the most common type of hair loss women experience, and is more gradual that those mentioned above. Also known as androgenic alopecia, female pattern balding can begin at any age from puberty to elderly, and affects approximately 38 percent of women.
Female pattern balding usually begins at the center of the scalp and at the temples, and is often treated topically with Minoxidil applied twice daily. Minoxidil has been documented to increase hair growth at minimal levels in 50 percent of patients, while 13 percent of users experience moderate hair growth. It takes at least 32 weeks of regular applications to determine the results of Minoxidil treatments. Interestingly, although a two percent solution of Minoxidil is prescribed routinely to women experiencing female pattern balding, the FDA has not approved this concentration for use on women. If topical therapy fails to derail hair loss, the next step to consider would be hair transplantation.
Some patients with pattern balding symptoms may actually be suffering from a hormone imbalance, which can easily be checked by a physician. Acne and bodily hair growth can be signs of male hormone imbalance, a condition called PCOS. If this is found to be your problem, your physician may prescribe male hormone blocking medications such as Spironolactone, a mild diuretic, which should resolve your hair loss issues.
Any sudden hair loss can give rise to anxiety in a woman, but try not to panic. Consider what may be causing the hair loss – recent stress, a new medication you are taking, or possibly an undiagnosed hormone imbalance. Discuss your concerns with your doctor to rule out disease or nutritional deficits. If your hair loss is caused by a permanent form of alopecia, a hair treatment specialist can help you address hair loss with proper treatment.