Excessive or abnormal hair loss is known as alopecia, and there are several
kinds. What all hair loss has in common, whether it's in men or women, is a
symptom of something that's gone wrong in your body. Your hair will remain on
your head where it belongs unless hormone imbalance, disease, or some other
condition occurs. That condition may be as simple as having a gene that makes
you susceptible to male or female pattern baldness or one of the forms of
alopecia areata, or it may be as complex as a whole host of diseases.
Fortunately, hair loss can be a symptom of a short-term event such as
stress, pregnancy, disease, or medication, which can all alter hair's growth
and shedding phases. In these situations, hair will grow back when the event
has passed. Once the cause of the loss is addressed, hairs go back to their
random pattern of growth and shedding, and your problem stops.
Many women with hair loss suffer in silence, altering their hairstyle to hide thinning or patches. But the sooner you seek care, the better the chances of successfully treating it, says Mary Gail Mercurio, MD, associate professor of dermatology at the University of Rochester in Rochester, N.Y.
It's not as uncommon as you may think: As many as 5% of women under 30 and 60% of those older than 70 are affected, she says. At the recent meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology in Miami Beach, Fla...
The first two types of hair loss in women are associated with
dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a derivative of the male hormone, testosterone.
The majority of women with androgenetic - also called androgenic - alopecia
have diffuse thinning on all areas of the scalp. (Men rarely have diffuse
thinning but instead have more distinct patterns of baldness.) Some women have
a combination of two pattern types.
Androgenic alopecia in women is due to the action of androgens, male
hormones that are typically present in only small amounts. Androgenic alopecia
can be caused by a variety of factors tied to the actions of hormones,
including some ovarian cysts, taking high androgen index birth control pills,
pregnancy, and menopause.
Just as in men, the
hormone DHT appears to be at least partially to blame for the
miniaturization of hair follicles in women suffering with female pattern
baldness. Heredity plays a major factor in the disease.
When your body goes through something traumatic like child birth,
malnutrition, a severe infection, major surgery, or extreme stress, it can
impact your hair. Many of the 90% or so of hairs in the growing (anagen) or
transitional (catagen) phases can actually shift all at once into the resting
About six weeks to three months after the stressful event, the shedding
phenomenon called telogen effluvium may begin. It is possible to lose handfuls
of hair at a time when in full-blown telogen effluvium.
For most who suffer with this, complete remission is probable as long as
severely stressful events can be avoided. For some women, however, telogen
effluvium is a mysterious chronic disorder and can persist for months or even
years without any true understanding of the triggering factors or
Anagen effluvium occurs after any insult to the hair follicle that impairs
its cellular-level mitotic or metabolic activity. This hair loss is commonly
associated with chemotherapy. Since chemotherapy targets rapidly dividing
cancer cells, your body's other rapidly dividing cells -- such as hair
follicles in the growing (anagen) phase -- are also greatly affected. Soon
after chemotherapy begins, approximately 90% or more of hairs in the anagen
phase can fall out.
The characteristic finding in anagen effluvium is the tapered fracture of
the hair shafts. The hair shaft narrows as a result of damage to the matrix.
Eventually, the shaft fractures at the site of narrowing and causes the loss of