Women, is hair loss affecting your self-confidence?

It's normal to shed hair - in fact, we shed approximately 30-150 hairs every day as part of our normal hair growth cycle (1). Our hair regrows at a rate that means the number of hairs on our scalp remains pretty constant. But what if you've noticed dramatic hair loss or thinning hair that is affecting your confidence? It could be caused by a variety of different factors, and you're most definitely not alone. In fact, it's estimated that hair loss affects around six million women in the UK. A study of 1,008 women revealed that almost one-fifth of women aged 30 to 49 suffered from some form of hair loss, with 25% of women aged 50 to 69 affected and 28% of women aged 70 to 79 also affected (2).

Female hair loss can affect your confidence and self-esteem, and it's a growing problem. But what's causing your hair loss and what can you do about it?

Types of hair loss

There are several different types of hair loss - this is intended as a basic guide and we would always recommend you visit your GP if you're concerned about hair loss.

Telogen Effluvium

Telogen Effluvium is a condition which causes general thinning of the hair. The good news? It's usually temporary and can be caused by sudden or severe stress. In women with Telogen Effluvium, the hair follicles stop growing prematurely and enter into the resting phase, where they stay for around three months before they are shed. Sometimes, hair loss will continue until the underlying stress is resolved, and in some cases Chronic Telogen Effluvium can develop, lasting longer than 6 months.

What causes it?

Known causes of the condition include severe emotional stress (such as after a breakup or bereavement), dieting, childbirth, or starting and stopping birth control pills.

What's the treatment?

Treatment will depend on the cause of your hair loss. You should always see your GP for a diagnosis, to rule out any other causes. They may refer you to a dermatologist or hair loss expert who can prescribe treatments to help promote hair growth. Eating a healthy diet with plenty of B vitamins, iron, protein and zinc can help too.

Alopecia Areata

Alopecia Areata is characterised by the sudden appearance of round bald patches of hair loss, usually around the size of a coin. One in five people who develop the condition have a family history of Alopecia Areata (3), and it's estimated to affect 1 in every 1,000 people.

What causes it?

Although the exact cause is unknown, Alopecia Areata is classed as an auto-immune condition, caused by problems with the immune system. Triggers can include extreme stress, sudden shock or even physical trauma. Occasionally, it can develop into Alopecia Totalis or Alopecia Universalis, leading to total hair loss and it can affect the entire body, not just the scalp.

What's the treatment?

Your GP or hair loss expert may prescribe topical Minoxidil to treat bald patches - steroid injections into the scalp are also an option. 

Image credit: www.belgraviacentre.com

Androgenic Alopecia (Female Pattern Baldness)

If you start to lose hair at the front of your head, behind your hair line, and suffer from an oval shaped area of thinning or sparse hair on top of your head, you could be suffering from female pattern baldness.

What causes it?

You can inherit this from either side of your family - so if your father or grandfather suffered from male pattern baldness, you could be at risk. Female pattern baldness most commonly affects women after the menopause, when women's bodies stop producing oestrogen (the female hormone). This means testosterone levels in the body rise and hair follicles can shrink as a result.

What's the treatment?

Minoxidil may be prescribed, and many hair loss experts will suggest a course of Propecia, an oral treatment normally prescribed for male pattern baldness. Some women have reported success with low-level laser therapy, and there is always the option for a hair transplant.

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Traction Alopecia

This type of hair loss is caused by excess tension on the hair shaft, which pulls hair and can damage the follicle. If left untreated, hair production slows and will finally stop.

What causes it?

The main cause of traction alopecia is tight hairstyles that put the hair roots under pressure - such as wearing tight hair extensions or hair pieces or hairstyles such as cornrows or weaves. If you notice this type of hair loss, you'll need to stop wearing your extensions if you want to prevent it from getting worse.

What's the treatment?

Minoxidil is usually used to treat traction alopecia, along with hair regrowth boosters. In many cases (providing hair loss is not too advanced), removing the cause of the condition will result in hair regrowth, although it may take time.

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Scarring Hair Loss

This type of hair loss usually causes small bald patches that are shiny in appearance. They may appear suddenly or over time.

What causes it?

Scarring hair loss can be caused by certain skin conditions such as Discoid Lupus, an auto-immune condition which destroys the hair follicle's stem cells that are needed to regrow new hair, or conditions such as lichen planopilaris (which causes an itchy rash). 

What's the treatment?

Treating the cause of the hair loss usually involves taking antibiotics which suppress the immune system and reduce inflammation. If the condition has been successfully treated, a hair transplant is an option to improve the appearance of the hair.

Common causes of hair loss in women

There are many conditions which could lead to hair loss - we've listed a few of the most common that could be behind your hair loss.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

PCOS is an endocrine system disorder which can affect the way the ovaries work. It can cause symptoms such as increased facial and body hair, fatigue, weight gain and hair thinning or shedding. PCOS causes the body to produce too many androgens (male hormones) which can affect those with follicle sensitivity. If your hair follicles are sensitive to androgens, you may notice a decrease of hair growth on your scalp. Treatment can be complex but usually involves taking anti-androgens to help prevent further hair loss. Often, combination oral contraceptive pills are prescribed to stimulate new hair growth.

Thyroid problems

The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland located in the lower part of your neck. Its purpose? To produce hormones which are then released into the blood stream. The hormones produced by the thyroid are responsible for regulating cell production and energy levels, as well as managing things like body temperature. If you suffer from hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) or hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), hair loss could be a symptom, with hair becoming dry and brittle, thinning in places. If you have other symptoms such as those listed here, it's a good idea to see your GP for a test. Both underactive and overactive thyroid can be managed with medication.

Starting or stopping oral contraceptives

One thing nobody tells you when you start or stop taking hormonal birth control is that female hair loss can occur as a result. Today, more women are using birth control than ever before, and using it at a younger age (4). If your pill contains a progestin (synthetic form of progesterone) with a high androgen index, it can create high testosterone levels, shrinking hair follicles and leading to thinning hair. You may not need to stop taking the pill - your GP can switch you to a pill containing a progestin with a lower androgen index or a non-hormonal method of birth control. Stopping the pill could also trigger hair loss, as hair is sensitive to hormonal changes and it could take a year or more before your hair returns to normal.

Stress

Whilst hair loss is often linked to hormonal changes, stress, anxiety and depression can be a trigger, causing the onset of telogen effluvium or alopecia areata. Usually the cause of the stress has been resolved by the time the hair loss begins, around 3 to 6 months after the stressful event.

It's important to remember that you should always see your GP if you're experiencing hair loss or thinning hair - and that hair loss is often temporary. A healthy diet, nutritional supplements and reducing stress in your life can all help too.


READ THIS NEXT: Suffering from hair loss? Here's 5 surprising causes

Works cited:

  1. http://www.bad.org.uk/for-the-public/patient-information-leaflets/telogen-effluvium

  2. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2269813/Hair-loss-women-SIX-MILLION-women-suffer-warning-health-problems.html

  3. http://www.belgraviacentre.com/alopecia/

  4. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3176646/Birth-control-pill-causing-hair-loss-young-women.html

Author By Paula Beaton
Date On 20th Jan 2016 at 11:28
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