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Hair Loss - Exams and Tests

Hair loss is diagnosed through a medical history and physical exam. Your doctor will ask you questions about your hair loss, look at the pattern of your hair loss, and examine your scalp. He or she may also tug gently on a few hairs or pull some out.

The most common cause of hair loss—inherited hair loss—is easily recognized. Men tend to lose hair from the forehead area and top of the head with normal amounts of hair on other areas of the scalp. Women tend to keep their front hairline, but have thinning of the hair on the top of the head.

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Hair loss history

To determine the cause of your hair loss, your doctor may ask you about:

  • Characteristics of your hair loss. Is your hair thinning, with your scalp becoming more visible, but your hair is not noticeably falling out? Or is your hair shedding, with lots of hair falling out?
  • How long your hair loss has been occurring. How long has it been since you had your normal amount of hair?
  • Your family history of hair loss. Does your mother or father, brother or sister, or any other relative have hair loss? If so, what caused their hair loss?
  • Your hairstyling habits. Has your hair become fragile from pulling it too tight or from other hairstyling habits? Have you had any chemical treatments to your hair, such as permanents (perms) or bleaching? Do you use a blow-dryer that may be too hot? Is a curling iron damaging your hair?
  • Any recent illness. Have you had any skin rashes, such as ringworm, recently?
  • Medicines you are taking. Are you taking blood thinners (anticoagulants) or medicines for arthritis, depression, or heart problems? Have you had any cancer treatment?
  • Your diet. Are you getting enough protein and iron in your diet?

Tests

If the reason for your hair loss is not clear, your doctor may do tests to check for a disease that may be causing your hair loss. Tests include:

  • Hair analysis. Your doctor will take a sample of your hair and examine it under a microscope. A scalp sample might also be taken.
  • Blood tests, including testing for a specific condition, such as an overactive or underactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism).

Hair loss in women

Hair loss in women is more difficult to diagnose than it is in men because the pattern of hair loss is not as noticeable as it is in men.

Testing to diagnose hair loss usually is not done in women with mild to moderate hair thinning who are otherwise healthy. But in women who have irregular menstrual cycles, continued episodes of acne, or too much body hair (hirsutism), testing for a class of hormones called androgens, including testosterone, is sometimes done.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: January 29, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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