Female Hair Loss Overview
Hair loss and thinning of hair is a matter of great distress and embarrassment for many women. A certain amount of hair loss, about 100 hair strands a day, is normal. Beyond this is considered excessive especially when the hair loss occurs in patches or is throughout the head thereby making the scalp visible. Women aged 25 to 35 years are more susceptible to severe hair loss while mild to moderate hair loss is not uncommon in older women. Sometimes hair loss is not just restricted to the scalp, but occurs on other areas such as the eyebrows, eye lashes, arms and legs.
When the hair growth cycle is in continuing as normal then loss of hair is not usually a problem, as hair loss is replaced by new hair in a very short span of time. However, when there is an accelerated loss of hair and inadequate replacement then thinning of hair takes place. Medical attention at this point is always advisable before the condition worsens. Once new hair growth ceases then hair loss (balding) will occur.
Female Hair Loss Types
There are several types of hair loss which in turn have different patterns and different causes. Some types of hair loss may start with the use of certain medication like chemotherapy (cancer drugs) as is seen with anagen effluvium or with irritation and inflammation of the scalp like alopecia areata. However, it is the more silent types that are often of greatest concern in that hair loss occurs yet there is no other obvious symptoms to indicate a problem or cause.
The two common types of hair loss in women is androgenetic areata and telogen effluvium.
- Androgenetic areata or female-pattern baldness is a hormonal related loss of hair usually due to an increase in the male sex hormones in the female body as the female sex hormones subside. Hair loss is often permanent unless the underlying hormonal imbalance is treated.
- Telogen effluvium is a temporary hair loss where many of the hair follicles slip into a prolonged ‘no growth’ phase for no apparent reason and remain in this state for several months. It is believed to be due to underlying irritation of the follicle or stress.
Normal hair growth cycle
The hair growth cycle undergoes 4 discrete stages regularly.
- Phase 1 – Anagen or the growth phase
- Phase 2 – Catagen or the transition phase
- Phase 3 – Telogen or resting phase
- Phase 4 – Mesanagen or returning growth phase
A full hair cycle takes about 2 to 5years per follicle. Hair grows from the follicles that are attached to the scalp’s skin. The maintenance of the regular hair growth cycle is taken care of by all the major systems of the body, such as circulatory, endocrine and nervous system which work at the root of the hair. The functioning of these systems attributes to the pain when it is pulled out from the scalp. During the transition phase, the hair detaches from the blood supply and follicles shrink causing loss of hair. In the resting phase, there is loss of hair due to decreased blood supply and growth of hair is not observed.
A strand of the fallen hair consists of compacted dead cells. Excessive or unusual hair loss occurs when the hair follicles are in the resting phase (telogen) and is unable to return naturally to the last phase of the cycle. Balding occurs when a large group of follicles stop producing hair at one place. This process takes a fair amount of time to occur; however in cases when this happens suddenly then a clump of hair may fall off leading to instant baldness.
Female Hair Loss Causes
Excessive loss and thinning of hair occurs due to a number of factors. Hair loss does become more likely with age but is not a definite occurrence. As many of the normal processes of the body slows down and even fails to some degree, hair loss may occur. However, early treatment can limit it and may even be able to reverse some degree of hair loss in the senior years.
Some of the possible causes of hair loss in females of all ages includes :
- Emotional and physical stress
- Disorders of the immune system
- Hormonal imbalance including the use of oral contraceptives
- Hormonal changes during biological condition such as pregnancy
- Fungal infections of the scalp
- Hair dye allergies and sensitivity to other hair care products
- Harsh hair treatments
- Thyroid disorders
- Poor dietary habits and malnutrition particularly with deficiencies of vitamin A, D and iron
- Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for cancer treatment
- Severe blood loss
- Medications such as thyroid treating medicines, anticonvulsants, and anticoagulants
- Some types of hormone therapy
- After major surgery and severe illness
Female Hair Loss Symptoms
Hair loss does not occur alone may be accompanied by several other symptoms. The symptoms vary among individuals and also depends on the underlying causes.
- Ringworm infection and hair dye allergies that causes itchiness and occurrence of raised red patches on the scalp.
- Loss of facial and body hair, burning sensation of the scalp may be seen with alopecia areata.
- Rashes that occur in the cheeks and bridge of the nose could be a sign of lupus (SLE).
- Depression or malaise, fever, excessive thirst, mouth ulcers and swollen lymph nodes that occur as a result of an autoimmune disease.
- Blurred vision, excessive thirst, hunger, fatigue and undue weight loss can also occur due to either diabetes or poor nutrition.
- Itchy scalp, dry brittle hair, tightness and or soreness occur when hair is exposed to several hair care products and treatments.
- Undue weight gain, fatigue, depression, muscle ache, joint pain, heavy blood loss during menstrual periods, dry brittle hair and sensitivity to cold due to hypothyroidism.
- Weight loss, sensitivity to heat, tremors, irregular menstrual periods and swollen glands which occurs due to hyperthyroidism.
Female Hair Loss Treatment
There are several treatment options available for treating hair loss. Not all treatments may be effective in every case. Treatment option may therefore vary largely on the individual case. A single or a combination of treatment options may be applied for effective control of hair fall. The following are available :
Medicines such as minoxidil, ketaconazole and finasteride work by blocking the enzyme that accelerates hair fall. Of these minoxidil and finasteride are available in form of lotions, shampoos and tablet. Ketaconazole is mainly an antifungal although some studies have indicated its off label use for hair loss.
Laser therapy involves the use of light energy through low intensity lasers for treating damaged hair follicles in a person with thinning hair. Its ability to restore dead hair follicles are limited.
Hair transplantation is a surgical procedure that involves the replacement of hair follicles from one part of the body to the bald area of the scalp. It is considered as the last option for the treatment of baldness.
This method is a kind of cosmetic treatment which involves application of a thin, transparent membrane to the scalp which is infused with human hair.