Alopecia (Hair Loss) – Causes, Diagnosis, And Treatment
What is alopecia?
Alopecia refers to hair loss from any part of the body. Hair loss usually develops gradually. It may be patchy or all over (diffuse). There are many types of hair loss ranging from thinning of hair to complete baldness.
What causes alopecia?
There are many causes that result in hair loss. The following are the causes of alopecia:
Hereditary and aging
Both men and women tend to lose hair thickness and amount as they age. This type of baldness is not usually caused by a disease. It is related to aging, heredity, and changes in the hormone testosterone. Inherited, or pattern baldness affects many more men than women. Male pattern baldness can occur at any time after puberty. About 80% of men show signs of male pattern baldness by age 70.
Physical or Emotional Stress
Physical or emotional stress may cause one half to three-quarters of scalp hair to shed. This kind of hair loss is called telogen effluvium. Hair tends to come out in handfuls while you shampoo, comb, or run your hands through your hair. You may not notice this for weeks to months after the episode of stress. Hair shedding decreases over 6 to 8 months. Telogen effluvium is usually temporary. But it can become long-term (chronic).
The following are the causes of this type of hair loss:
- High fever or severe infection
- Major surgery, major illness, sudden blood loss
- Severe emotional stress
- Crash diets, especially those that do not contain enough protein
- Drugs, including retinoids, birth control pills, beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, certain antidepressants, NSAIDs (including ibuprofen)
The following are the other causes of hair loss:
- Alopecia areata. In this type, bald patches occur on the scalp, beard, and, possibly eyebrows and eyelashes.
- Autoimmune conditions such as lupus
- Certain infectious diseases such as syphilis
- Excessive shampooing and blow-drying
- Hormone changes
- Thyroid diseases
- Nervous habits such as continual hair pulling or scalp rubbing
- Radiation therapy
- Tinea capitis (ringworm of the scalp)
- Tumor of the ovary or adrenal glands
- Hairstyles that put too much tension on the hair follicles
- Bacterial infections of the scalp
How is the cause of alopecia diagnosed?
A doctor carefully examines your hair and scalp and reviews your medical and family history to diagnose the cause of hair loss.
Your doctor will ask the following questions:
- Symptoms of your hair loss. If there is a pattern of your hair loss or if you are losing hair from other parts of your body as well if other family members have hair loss.
- How you care for your hair. How often you shampoo and blow dry or if you use hair products.
- Your emotional well-being and if you are under a lot of physical or emotional stress
- Your diet, if you have made recent changes
- Recent illnesses such as a high fever or any surgeries
Your doctor may perform the following tests for diagnosis:
- Blood tests to rule out disease
- Microscopic examination of a plucked hair
- Skin biopsy of the scalp
How is alopecia treated?
Hair loss stops after 6 months to 2 years if it is from menopause or childbirth.
No treatment is needed for hair loss due to illness (such as fever), radiation therapy, medicine use, or other causes. Hair usually grows back when the illness ends or the therapy is finished. Doctors recommend wearing a wig, hat, or other covering until the hair grows back.
Hair weaves, hair pieces or changes in hairstyle may disguise hair loss. This is generally the least expensive and safest approach to hair loss.
If you have ringworm on the scalp, you may be prescribed an antifungal shampoo and oral medicine. Applying creams and lotions may not get into the hair follicles to kill the fungus.
Your doctor may recommend a solution like Minoxidil to apply on the scalp to stimulate hair growth. Other medicines, such as hormones, may be prescribed to decrease hair loss and promote hair growth. Drugs such as finasteride and dutasteride are recommended to men to decrease hair loss and grow new hair.
If you have a certain vitamin deficiency, your doctor may possibly recommend a supplement.
Sometimes, the doctor may also recommend hair transplant.
This feature is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute the expert guidance of a doctor. We advise seeing a doctor if you have any health concerns.