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HomeHealth A-Z Hair Loss
Hair Loss
Hair Loss
Hair loss due to genetics and aging may be inevitable, but there are various surgical and non-surgical options that can help.

Hair Loss

Definition of Hair Loss

Hair loss is part of the natural growth cycle of the hair, but when the loss of hair is greater than the rate of regrowth then hair loss becomes an issue.

Description of Hair Loss

Hair grows and falls out in a continuous three-part cycle. The three parts of the hair cycle are the growth (anagen) stage, the transition (catagen) stage, and the resting (telogen) stage. The hair falls out during the resting stage, which lasts about two to three months. Fortunately, not all of the hair is in the same part of the cycle at the same time. At any one time, only about 10% of the hair is in the resting stage. Of the approximately 100,000 hairs on the average head, it is normal to lose about 100 hairs per day.

The typical growth cycle lasts two to six years, during which time hair grows about half-an-inch per month. At the end of the growth stage it enters the transition stage, which lasts two to three weeks. During this stage, hair growth stops and the hair root shortens and shrinks. The final phase is the resting phase, when hair falls out.

Hair grows in a small sac in the skin called a hair follicle. Hair follicles produce two types of hair; terminal hairs, which are course, pigmented strands of hair, and vellus hairs, which are short, fine, colorless hair that is also known as peachfuzz. Hair follicles usually grow the same type and thickness of hair from one cycle to the next.

The natural occurrence of hair loss becomes an issue when the hair is not replaced during the next growth cycle. The problem may be due to several factors; a growth rate of hair that is not as great as the rate of hair loss, when the terminal hairs are replaced by vellus hairs, or when the hair does not grow back at all.

Causes and Risk Factors of Hair Loss

The most common cause of hair loss is genetics. Most men and many women experience hair thinning as they age. Men are more prone to hair loss and will likely see patterned hair loss or balding over time.

Other common causes of hair loss are a serious illness, major surgery, overactive or underactive thyroid gland, imbalance of male or female hormones known as androgens and estrogens, hormonal fluctuations following pregnancy and giving birth, medications, fungal infections of the scalp, or an underlying condition such as lupus or diabetes. Fortunately, hair loss in these situations can often be reversed once the underlying condition is treated and the body returns to a balanced and healthy state.

Another type of hair loss, called traction alopecia, is due to the hair being put in tight rollers, pigtails, or cornrows. Many people also experience hair loss from hair treatments, including hot oils, chemicals in hair dye, and perms which over process the hair. This hair loss can be reversed by avoiding the damaging activities and allowing the hair follicle to heal.

Symptoms of Hair Loss

While it is normal to lose about 100 hairs a day due to the natural growth cycle of the hair follicle, hair loss becomes a problem when more hair falls out then regrows. If you are experiencing hair loss it is important to discuss it with your doctor in order to determine if the hair loss is part of the natural aging process or if it indicates another underlying condition.

Diagnosis of Hair Loss

It is important for your doctor to diagnose the cause of the hair loss so that appropriate treatment can be given. Your doctor will perform a physical exam and ask you about any changes in your medications, health, or hair care in order to determine the reason for the excessive hair loss. If the doctor suspects an underlying health condition, additional lab tests may be recommended as well.

Treatment of Hair Loss

Hair loss due to genetics and aging may be inevitable, but it is treatable. There are both surgical and non-surgical options available to help both men and women with hair thinning and hair loss.

Popular non-surgical treatments for hair loss are the medications Rogaine and Propecia. Rogaine, the marketed name for the anti-balding drug known as Minoxidil, is a cream that is applied directly to the scalp. Minoxidil has been shown to help retain current hair and stimulate new hair growth in many people. Minoxidil can be used by both men and women and does not require a prescription. Propecia, on the other hand, comes in a pill form, requires a prescription, and is only available for men. Propecia, which is the trade name for the drug Finasteride, helps to preserve existing hair. Propecia and Rogaine are often used together to achieve the greatest success in both preserving existing hair and stimulating new hair growth. Many men and women are happy with the results of hair loss medications, but individual results do vary.

Surgical options for hair loss usually focuses on hair transplantation and grafting. A thin strip of skin and hair is taken from the back of the head, dissected into smaller pieces, and inserted into slits or holes that are made in the scalp of the balding or thinning areas. Technology has made this procedure more precise and natural hair growth is expected within three months. Rogaine and/or Propecia are often used in conjunction with hair transplantation to encourage hair growth.

Prevention of Hair Loss

Hair loss due to aging and genetics may not be able to be completely prevented, but it can often be reduced using the hair loss medications Rogaine and Propecia. Hair loss due to tight hair styles and chemicals and be prevented in the future by avoiding the damaging activities. Hair loss due to an underlying medical condition or medications can be prevented by addressing the cause. Stopping hair loss will ultimately depend on the cause and is best considered on a case by case basis.

External Resources

American Hair Loss Association

American Hair Loss Council

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