Hair Loss: Causes and Cures

What causes hair loss?
Hair loss is a natural part of the body's process of renewal. As some hair falls out, new growth replaces it. However, this process may be accelerated by a number of conditions. Hormonal changes may contribute to rapid hair loss, such as during pregnancy or childbirth, or even when coming off the Pill. As these fluctuations in hormone levels drop off, the hair loss should clear up, so the condition is only temporary. In a recent study, hormone levels were studied in both male and female patients experiencing severe hair loss. The research points towards a complex interaction between sex and thyroid hormones that may lead to the condition.

Stress is another factor linked to hair loss. While it has not been proved definitively, emotional trauma has been loosely associated with hair loss, but milder strains and worries probably do the same thing. Stresses placed on the body may also cause a woman's hair to jump ship. For example, crash dieting, in which a woman loses a large amount of weight rapidly, may also cause her to lose her tresses, too. Since stress is often transient, if its cause clears up, the resultant hair loss should disappear as well.

Female-Pattern Hair Loss
As women age, their hair tends to thin out, although the results are not as dramatic as they are for many men - think of your grandmother's hair compared to your grandfather's (if he has any). Women's pattern of hair loss is analogous to men's, but has several important differences. The ages we begin having hair loss are the same. A few of both sexes will begin having hair loss very early--in their twenties, but most do not note changes until the mid-thirties to forties. Women's hair loss tends to be an even overall thinning; as opposed to men's hair loss in which the hairline recedes and/or there is balding at the crown of the head. Women tend to lose hair on the crown and at the hairline, which is referred to as female-pattern hair loss.

When to Worry
Of course, although hair loss may often be temporary, a condition called alopecia areata (al-o-pee-see-uh are-ee-ah-tuh) is more serious. This disease is characterized by patchy loss of hair, and if a woman is experiencing this, she should consult her dermatologist. Corticosteroids are often prescribed to slow or even halt hair loss.

Hair loss is often hereditary and effects about 50% of women. So long as it is not abrupt, severe, or patchy, nor caused by emotional or physical stresses, it can be considered a normal part of maturing.

However natural or normal this may be, many women want to reverse or halt this trend. If a woman wishes to take action medically, she will get better results if she acts sooner rather than later. Rogaine (minoxidil) is one of the most popular remedies. Still, only about 20% of people have normal hair re-growth, another 40% have a lighter, shorter re-growth that is like "peach fuzz." The growth only lasts for as long as the woman uses it. It costs about $30 a month and must be applied twice a day.

A new drug, Propecia, is now being tested by Merck on post-menopausal women. Propecia works by blocking the conversions of testosterone into a related hormone, dihydrotestosterone that shrinks hair follicles. It has about the same success rate as Rogaine in the men and likewise the hair re-growth stops once the drug is discontinued. It is not know whether it will work as well with women's hormone profile. In addition, this drug cannot be taken while pregnant because it can cause birth defects in the urinary and genital organs of male fetuses. There are concerns about taking a drug that affects hormones long-term in men (sound familiar, ladies?).

The earlier hair transplant techniques took large chunks of scalp and hair from dense areas and moved them to bald spots, something that did not address the typical situation for women. The newer, micrograft hair transplant techniques make this a viable option for a woman's overall thinning pattern.

Many women can forego the medical route for this problem. Hair loss can be managed through a variety of hair products, from mousses and gels to coloring to wigs and extensions. These often give better cosmetic results at lower costs and with less trouble.

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