What Causes Hair Loss

Researching what causes hair loss is a complex and challenging task. Doctors haven’t identified all of the genes responsible for hair loss, the interaction of the hair loss genes or how these genes interact with environmental factors. In order to properly trace and identify the genetic components of hair loss, large scale research studies of multi-generations of families would have to be studied for centuries. To date, no such study has been successfully conducted, though every doctor agrees genetics play an important role in what causes hair loss. In addition to genetics, aging, hormones and various types of trauma can also contribute to hair loss. SO, before you opt for hair loss drugs or even some sort of hair replacement system, learn more about what causes hair loss and ways to prevent it.

Doug Melvin of Boise, Idaho discusses male pattern and female pattern hair loss and Katie Allen of Knoxville, Tennessee talks about alopecia areata, temporary and stress-related hair loss and what your physician needs to know about your hair loss symptoms.

Male and Female Pattern Hair Loss by Doug Melvin of Boise, Idaho

Most of the time, male and female pattern hair loss, also known as androgenetic alopecia or common baldness, are genetic, part of the aging process or related to hormonal changes in your body. In addition to hormones, aging and genetics, there are a number of reasons why men and women lose their hair*:

  • Thyroid disease, childbirth, and the use of birth control pills are some of the hormonal changes that can cause hair loss;
  • Illness or fever can be responsible for what causes hair loss;
  • Chemotherapy and medications can cause hair loss;
  • Excessive shampooing and blow-drying, chemically straightening, dyeing or bleaching hair;
  • Emotional or physical stress can cause hair loss;
  • Continually pulling your hair or rubbing your scalp may be signs of a nervous habit or disorder and can cause hair loss;
  • Scalp trauma, burns, injury and radiation therapy;
  • Bald patches on the scalp, beard, eyelashes or eyebrows may indicate an immune disorder called alopecia areata;
  • Scalp ringworm.

*If you experience sudden or unexpected hair loss, talk to your doctor. Only a licensed physician can advise you about your health.

Male Pattern Baldness is Often What Causes Hair Loss
Male pattern baldness (androgenetic alopecia) is what causes hair loss in men 95% of the time. Almost 60% of men will experience some symptoms of male pattern baldness by age 50. Men typically start experiencing signs of hair loss between ages 24-38, though symptoms have been known to start much earlier. Male pattern hair loss is caused by an inherited gene and may come from either your mom or dad’s side of the family. Hormones play a role in men’s hair loss, too. Testosterone, combined with 5 alpha reductase, a natural enzyme produced by the hair follicles, produces dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Hair follicle receptors are sensitive to DHT and the body reacts by starting the natural male and female baldness patterns, producing thinner hair or no hair at all. The cruel side to DHT is that while it causes hair loss, it conversely stimulates hair growth… in other areas of your body.

What Causes Female Pattern Hair Loss
Female pattern hair loss is also a serious condition, affecting approximately 30% of susceptible women. Female pattern baldness (known as androgenetic alopecia in women also) is caused by several factors. Aging plays a role where some women can begin to experience hair loss after the age of 50. Hormonal changes also play a role in female pattern hair loss, as women sometimes start losing their hair after the onset of menopause. Genetics definitely plays a part in what causes hair loss in women, but doctors have not identified all of the inheritance patterns. In a society that emphasizes beauty and femininity, women with female pattern baldness are especially at-risk for self-esteem issues caused by hair loss.

Talk to Your Doctor about What’s Causing Your Hair Loss by Dr. Brett Ferdinand of Montreal, Canada

If you begin experiencing signs of hair loss, make an appointment to see your family physician. In addition to male and female pattern baldness, there are many other triggers that cause hair loss. If you are losing hair in patches or if you are losing hair from other areas of your body you might have alopecia areata, an immune disorder. Stress-related hair loss and changes in your lifestyle can also cause temporary hair loss.

Your doctor will need to know the following information to determine what’s causing your hair loss:

  • What medications are you taking, including vitamins, herbal supplements and over the counter drugs?
  • Do you bleach, dye, straighten or perm your hair?
  • How often do you use hair dryers, curling irons or flat irons on your hair?
  • What kind of shampoo or styling products do you use on your hair and how often do you use them?
  • Are you losing hair from your scalp or from other areas of your body?
  • Do you have any characteristics of male or female pattern hair loss like a receding hair line, thinning or bald areas, or are you experiencing hair loss all over your body?
  • Have you recently been ill, had a high fever or any unusual rashes?
  • Could your hair loss be stress-related? Higher levels of DHT can cause hair loss.
  • Do you find yourself pulling your hair or rubbing your scalp in a habitual manner?
  • Do you have any itching, flaking, oiliness or redness on your scalp or on other areas of the body where hair loss is evident?

Be prepared to answer these questions and to provide a detailed list of medications, supplements and vitamins that you are taking when you visit your doctor’s office.

Hair Loss Caused by Alopecia Areata
Alopecia areata is among the most common causes of hair loss related to a medical condition, affecting more than 5 million people in the U.S. Alopecia areata is an autoimmune skin disease that causes white blood cells to attack the hair follicles, preventing new hair growth. The disease can strike the scalp, face and other areas of the body. Alopecia areata affects men and women of all ages but hair loss often starts during childhood. It occurs suddenly, can return without warning and the resulting hair loss is often devastating to people who suffer from the condition. Alopecia areata can be inherited. Studies show that there’s a 50-50 chance of developing alopecia areata if one parent has the disease.

What Causes Temporary Hair Loss?
Changes in your lifestyle or your health can be responsible for what causes temporary hair loss. Dieting can also be a factor; if you’re trying to lose weight, and noticing some significant hair loss, that may be the culprit. Hair loss can be caused by changes in medication, or changes in your health resulting from an illness. Chemical hair straighteners, hair bleaching or dyeing your hair and regularly wearing your it in cornrows, braids or a ponytail can also contribute to temporary hair loss or hair breakage.

Stress-Related Hair Loss
Like every other aspect of our lives, stress can be a factor in your hair loss. Stress increases the level of DHT in your bloodstream which is a prime cause of hair loss. If you’ve been working long hours, experiencing tension headaches or generally feeling stressed out and you recently started losing your hair, it’s probably stress-related. Stress-induced hair loss may also be caused by surgery, illness or weight loss but it is usually temporary and curable.

We thank our contributors:

  • Doug Melvin of Boise, Idaho
  • Dr. Brett Ferdinand of Montreal, Canada

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