When you start to notice your hair falling out it can be stressful, however, hair loss (also known as alopecia) is not often a cause for concern! It can occur on any area of hair on your body but most commonly and noticeably affects your scalp as this is where the hair grows quickest. You may be worried that you will eventually lose all of your hair or that it's a sign of something wrong - on the contrary, most hair loss has a simple and common cause. Here is a rundown of the most common causes of hair loss:
Male pattern baldness, alopecia androgenetica, is the most common cause of hair loss and occurs due to genetics. Due to this, most men experience some extent of hair loss by middle age. A similar form of baldness can occur in women, female pattern baldness, while it is unclear exactly what the causes are for this, it can be linked to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). If you are worried about baldness or it is affecting your quality of life, a trip to your GP can help you figure out the best steps. There are some treatments available for male pattern baldness, but as they are cosmetic they are not available on the NHS. There is also considerable debate as to whether they are helpful.
Postpartum Hair Loss
Another common and well-known cause of hair loss is postpartum hair loss. This is a cause of Telogen effluvium, where there is an overall thinning of the hair, without any specific "bald patches". You may notice lots of hair on your pillow or when washing or brushing your hair. Telogen effluvium occurs when there is a disturbance to the hair cycle and the hairs at the telogen, resting, phase fall out. This disturbance can stem from the physical strain and hormonal changes of pregnancy and childbirth or from a physically or emotionally stressful event; such as a crash diet, severe infection or surgery. Only the hair in the "telogen" phase will fall out so you will not lose all of your hair, despite a seemingly large amount appearing to fall out. Your hair will start to grow back quite quickly. If you are worried about telogen effluvium, especially if you can't think of what may be triggering the hair loss, visiting your GP may help. Your doctor may want to perform some blood tests and examine your hair to check identify any potential causes of the hair loss, such as side effects from medications.
Telogen effluvium is different to the hair loss experienced with chemotherapy (called anagen effluvium), as this hair loss occurs in a different stage of the hair cycle and can lead to nearly complete hair loss. If you are having chemotherapy your cancer specialist nurse will be able to advise you about the different options available to you and offer support through this and other aspects of your treatment.
Alopecia areata is the loss of hair in "coin-sized" patches. This is caused by an autoimmune disease, like hyperthyroidism or diabetes where the body identifies foreign bodies in the hair and uses its defence systems to eliminate them, resulting in hair loss. There may also be a genetic component to the disease. This hair loss may not be immediately obvious; however, your hairdresser may notice it. The hair in these areas will grow back completely, and you will generally be able to cover them with the rest of your hair. It's important to go to the doctor if you notice a bald patch as, though rare, could be a sign of an underlying condition such as lupus or lichen planus. In the cases where the hair loss is linked to a medical condition, the small round areas of hair loss can be "scarring alopecia" where the hair is unable to grow back.
If you are noticing significant hair loss it can potentially be stressful, however, your GP will be able to examine the hair and identify the cause of the hair loss. If you are feeling upset about your hair loss, your GP will also be able to offer you support and identify the best treatment options for you, from wigs to counselling.
Dr Seth Rankin is founder of London Doctors Clinic