One of the most worrying aspects of hair loss treatment is the tendency of so many people to seek solutions without first determining what has caused their loss in the first place.
At best, sufferers may waste money on inappropriate ‘wonder cures’ or even legitimate treatments that, unfortunately, are not suitable for their particular needs. At worst, some people may be risking their health by self-prescribing powerful pharmaceutical drugs. I don’t have a problem with hair loss sufferers saving money by purchasing cheap generic drugs on the internet, but I feel strongly that they should at least seek confirmation from their physician that a given drug matches their individual needs.
Before examining the most common causes of premature hair loss, we need to understand that some shedding of hair is perfectly normal. Hairs grow from follicles that are tiny organs in the skin designed to grow a single hair that follows this repetitive cycle:
At this point, a new hair begins to grow, repeating the normal cycle of hair growth. Unfortunately, a number of factors can interfere with the natural hair growth process which can lead to forms of hair thinning or premature baldness.
Androgenetic alopecia is the most common cause of hair loss, probably accounting for as much as 95% of pattern hair loss for both men and women. It is usually associated with aging and develops in predictable stages over varying periods of time. Each follicle follows a genetically programmed growth cycle with some follicles coded to remain active for a shorter time than others. This results in the development of the hereditary baldness patterns that are so familiar to us all.For this type of baldness to occur, the following factors must be present:
All men and women produce male hormones, such as testosterone and DHT. These have a useful role to play in both sexes but obviously occur in widely differing concentrations. It is the higher levels of androgens found in males that explains why this form of hair loss affects men more than women. These hormones affect the hair growth cycle as follows:
Alopecia areata is thought to be an immune system disorder that causes follicles to stop producing hairs in patches on the head. In severe cases, it can advance to the stage where all hair on the head is lost (alopecia totalis) or even a complete absence of body hair results (alopecia universalis).
In most cases the hair will reappear on its own, but, until then, the condition can be very distressing to sufferers–particularly as its cause can be difficult to determine. If you feel you may be suffering from this form of hair loss, seek the advice of your physician who will carry out a physical examination and conduct blood tests to help determine the cause.
Telogen effluvium is characterized by a general thinning or shedding of hair over a period of months and is most commonly found in people who have recently experienced trauma. Common causes include childbirth, major surgery, severe illness, psychological stress, and chemotherapy. The good news is that the abnormal growth behavior associated with telogen effluvium is temporary and reversible.
There are numerous other less common hair loss causes that need to be discounted before a course of treatment is chosen. Traction alopecia is the loss of hair from constant pulling, usually as the result of hair styling. Broken hairs can result in thinning, often caused by excessive styling or exposure to chemicals and sun. Finally, severe illnesses or nutritional deficiencies can cause side effects that may include degrees of hair loss.
I hope this brief article has gotten across the message that diagnosing the real causes of hair loss is not always a straightforward process. Once you and your physician have identified a cause, then you can work towards restoring your hair to its former glory. The good news is that most forms of hair loss can be treated successfully. The next article in this series will look at some of the best hair loss treatments currently available.
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Dr. Athré is one of the few cosmetic and reconstructive surgeons in Houston who is a double board-certified Facial Plastic Surgeon, certified in Otolaryngology, Head/Neck Surgery, and Facial Plastic Surgery.Read more