06/06/2013 05:20 BST | Updated 05/08/2013 06:12 BST

It's Time to Talk About Female Hair Loss: Nadine Dorries Will Be One of Many


During her appearance on ITV's Daybreak this week, Conservative MP Nadine Dorries spoke out about how catastrophic her hair loss has been for her, likening it to having a mastectomy in that she felt less feminine because of it, saying: "You're losing your ability to go out and actually face the world..."

There's no escaping the fact that female hair loss is still a big taboo. That's not to say men don't struggle emotionally and psychologically when dealing with the same issue, but based on the fact that men with no hair are perceived as manly, female hair loss is an altogether different issue. In fact, for many years it hasn't been an issue at all in the press, because few have been brave enough to speak out about it.

Hopefully, though, Dorries will have opened the arena for debate, as women's hair loss is a far more complicated creature than its male equivalent. And it's not just Dorries we should be applauding, as actress and model Danielle Bux, who is married to football pundit Gary Lineker, has also spoken out about her hair loss, in her case alopecia areata that shattered her confidence as a teenager. Happily for Bux, she doesn't seem to be experiencing hair loss at the moment, but for Dorries it's an issue that leaves her in tears daily.

So, what do women need to know about female hair loss? Whereas 95% of men dealing with the issue have genetic hair loss (known as male pattern hair loss), for women it's much harder to predict the cause of their hair loss, as environmental factors play a much bigger part, although it's also true that genetics can cause hair loss in women, too.

So, whilst we know the cause of Danielle's hair loss (the auto-immune disease alopecia areata, which can be cleared up with treatment, though it may come back at any time) what could be causing the thinning on Nadine's scalp? If it's patchy loss, Nadine could also be experiencing alopecia areata, but if the loss is diffuse over the top of the scalp, it could be female pattern hair loss, which occurs due to a genetic predisposition.

The possibilities don't end there; nutritional deficiency and hormonal imbalance could be the cause of diffuse thinning, especially if the hair loss is not limited to the top of the scalp. Chronic stress, a sudden shock, or other environmental causes might also lead to telogen effluvium, where hair loss occurs around three months after the precipitating event. Treatment depends on each individual case, although the MHRA (the UK's medical regulatory body) has only licensed one medication for use by women: minoxidil, which is available as a topical liquid or extra-strength cream.

Of course, it's easy to speculate about the cause of Nadine's hair loss, but a close examination and blood tests would be needed in order to come to a firm diagnosis. In her Daybreak interview Nadine mentioned she was seeing a specialist - the right thing to do - and I would personally encourage her to keep speaking out about her experience to encourage other women to break their silence.