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Women and Hair Loss: Possible Causes

Are you losing more hair than you should, and what can you do about it?

In Your Genes

Another way to diagnose what the problem is just by looking and listening, Rogers says. She asks what a patient’s mother, aunts, or grandmothers look like - if they have similar, or greater amounts, of hair loss. Using magnification on the scalp can show if a woman’s follicles vary in size - with some thick and others thin. These are two telltale signs of female pattern hair loss, also called androgenetic alopecia. 

This is a hereditary condition that affects about 30 million American women, according to the America Academy of Dermatology,  and is the most common kind of hair loss Rogers sees in her practice. She tells WebMD that it happens to about 50% of women. Although it mostly occurs in the late 50s or 60s, it can happen at any time, even during teenage years, Rogers says.

Typically, each time a normal hair follicle is shed, it is replaced by hair that is equal in size. But in women with female-pattern hair loss, the new hair is finer and thinner - a more miniaturized version of itself, Rogers says. The hair follicles are shrinking and eventually they quit growing altogether.

Medical and Other Conditions

If hair follicles are uniform in size, or if the hair loss is sudden, it is likely to be caused by something other than heredity, like a medical condition, Rogers says.

There are a wide range of conditions that can bring on hair loss, with some of the most common being pregnancy, thyroid disorders, and anemia. Others include autoimmune diseases, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and skin conditions such as psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis, Rogers says.

Though there has been a link between menopause and hair loss, Roberts says she doesn’t think there is a direct correlation. It could be that menopause and hair loss just occur at the same age.

Other reasons for hair loss include extreme stress; physical trauma like surgery or intense illness; dramatic weight loss over a short period of time; and taking too much Vitamin A, Roberts says. And hair loss can occur a couple of weeks to six months after any of these experiences.

“Someone can have surgery and be just fine and then two weeks later their hair starts falling out,” Roberts says. “It can be very scary when it starts falling out in big clumps.”

Easy Does It

One other way to thin hair is self-inflicted - hairstyles like cornrows or too-tight braids can cause hair loss called traction alopecia.

All of the things women do to manipulate their hair -- dyes, chemical treatments, bad brushes, blow dryers, and flat irons -- can result in damage and breakage, Roberts says. This includes brushing too much and towel drying aggressively when the hair is wet.

Luckily, for most of these issues, the hair grows back or the loss can be reversed with medical treatments. But it is important to see a dermatologist if there seems to be something wrong, because the sooner treatment is started, the better the chances are for improving your growing season.

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Reviewed on June 11, 2012

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