Help for Women Who Experience Hair Loss
There are more options than you think.
Although many people think hair loss occurs only in men, women can experience it, too. You may be surprised that about a third of women experience hair loss at some point. For post-menopausal women, that increases to about two-thirds who find their hair thinning or discover bald spots.
Hair loss can be frustrating, especially for women, and affect well-being and quality of life. Fortunately there are treatments that can help.
Types of Hair Loss
To understand hair loss in women, it’s important to know the several common types that occur. Female pattern baldness is the most common, affecting about 30 million women in the United States. Also know as androgenic alopecia, it’s caused by excessive androgens—often referred to as male hormones and important in both sexes for regulating hair growth. This type of hair loss in women starts with gradual thinning at the part line, followed by hair loss at the top of the head. It most commonly affects post-menopausal women but may appear at any age after puberty.
Hair loss in women can be caused by any number of factors, including physical or emotional stress, medical conditions (such as hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism), nutritional deficiencies, treatment with chemotherapy agents or autoimmune disease.
The major types of hair loss in women include:
- Those with autoimmune causes, with the immune system attacking hair follicles and prompting hair loss that occurs with one or more circular patches that overlap. This is often brought on by stress.
- Those occurring after a stressful experience such as surgery, childbirth or a serious illness. Stress can push a large percentage of hair follicles into the resting phase.
- Those that happen during the first phase of hair’s growth cycle. Rapid hair loss can be caused by certain drugs used for chemotherapy or from exposure to toxic chemicals.
It’s noteworthy that some women have a genetic predisposition for hair loss, and the risk increases with age. And interestingly, the most common causes of hair loss are similar for men and women. In both sexes, hair loss from androgen activity occurs because of genetically ,determined shortening of the hair’s growth phase and a lengthening of time between shedding of hair and new hair growth.
What to Do
If you’re experiencing hair loss, see your doctor as soon as you notice your hair is thinning or changing in its quality or texture. Why so soon? Because there are several treatment options and medications that can help slow or stop your hair loss before it advances.
To determine the appropriate treatment, your doctor will talk to you about your medical history and do a thorough examination. Examining the scalp is important because viewing the pattern of baldness—whether it’s in patches or diffused—helps determine the type of hair loss.
Your doctor may want to look at your scalp under a microscope, take a scalp biopsy or order lab work to determine if a medical condition or nutritional deficiency might be leading to your hair loss. Lab work will also help assess hormone levels to determine if there’s excessive androgen production from such causes as an androgen secreting tumor.
Before making a diagnosis, your doctor will consider factors such as:
- The types of food you eat.
- The medications or supplements you take.
- If you’re experiencing stress at time of your hair loss.
- The kind of hairstyles and hair products you use.
- If you have a habit of pulling out your hair. (A medical condition called trichotillomania causes people to do this.)
- If you have a family history of female or male pattern baldness.
There are several options for addressing hair loss. A first option is often medications, such as anti-androgens and oral contraceptives, and over-the-counter solutions that stimulate hair growth when applied directly to the scalp. You may have heard of minoxidil or Rogaine. Iron supplements may help women who have iron deficiency leading to hair loss, and anti-dandruff shampoos that contain ketoconazole and zinc pyrithione may also help with hair loss.
Other treatments include FDA-approved light treatment with the HairMax Lasercomb, a low-light laser for female pattern baldness. The Theradome LH80 Pro Helmet has also been approved.
Platelet rich plasma (PRP) is being used as a preventative and treatment plan for hair loss associated with female pattern baldness and autoimmune conditions. Women who have had several PRP treatments typically experience thickened hair and improved hair quality in three to six months. Your doctor may combine PRP with a drug-free hair growth oral supplement.
Another treatment option that originated in the 1950s is a hair transplant, in which follicles are taken from the back of the scalp (usually a good hair bearing area) and transplanted as units to areas in need of hair. This treatment requires patience—it takes up to a year to see the outcome of the transplant due to the growth and shedding phase of the transplanted follicles.
Women also can consider wigs or extensions if they don’t want to take medication or seek medical treatments.
Women often ask if there’s a way to prevent hair loss. While there’s no specific treatment plan to prevent hair loss, women can improve their chances of avoiding hair loss by having regular exams with their primary care provider. These exams may detect underlying medical conditions—such as nutritional deficiencies and hormone imbalances—that can perpetuate hair loss.
Your choices of hair products and hairstyles also may help prevent hair loss. Avoid chemicals or harsh dyes on your hair and avoid hairstyles such as tight ponytails or certain types of braids that can put stress on your hair.
Hair loss can be frustrating, but take heart: There are treatment options available. Speaking with your doctor about your concerns and having them addressed early and regularly will help ensure that your hair—and you—are as healthy as possible.
Christine Cho, D.O., is a Double Board Certified, Fellowship Trained, Plastic and Reconstructive Certified physician at Tower Health where she discusses each of her patient’s goals and expectations to offer a range of options customized to their specific needs. She is certified by the American Osteopathic Board of Surgery and is a member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery, American College of Osteopathic Surgeons, and American Society for Laser Medicine and & Surgery, Inc. Learn more at THPlasticSurgeryAndMedSpa.org.
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