Hair loss is a common problem that affects millions of men, women, and children. At least half of adults—both men and women—will experience some thinning or loss of hair by the time they are 60, and many men will become completely bald. This type of hair loss is different than the loss you experience every day when you shampoo or style your hair. The average person loses about 100 hairs a day. Abnormal hair loss means that you are shedding more than that and, in the case of the most common type of hair loss, the hair will not grow back. If you think your hair loss is excessive, or if you are losing patches of hair, you should see your doctor. He or she will be able to identify the cause and discuss your treatment options.
Hair loss may be temporary or permanent, and can have many causes. By far the most common type of hair loss is pattern baldness, also known as androgenetic alopecia. Men with pattern baldness initially lose hair in the front, crown, and sides of the hairline, and may become completely bald. Women are more likely to experience thinning at the crown and front of the head. This type of hair loss is hereditary, and is usually permanent. However, several treatments are available that may help regrow hair.
A type of hair loss called telogen effluvium typically occurs in response to stress on the body. This type of hair loss can be triggered by childbirth, major surgery, illness, severe psychological stress, and many other factors. Hair loss may not occur for three to six months after the stressful incident, so you may not make the connection between the two events. Fortunately, hair usually regrows within several months.
Alopecia areata is a temporary form of hair loss in which smooth, round patches of hair fall out from the scalp. This is a hereditary condition that can affect children or adults. There is no cure, but treatment sometimes helps.
Hair loss can also occur for many other reasons. In most cases other than pattern baldness, the hair will regrow.
There are many possible causes of hair loss.
- Heredity. Nearly all incidents of male and female pattern baldness (androgenetic alopecia) are due to family history.
- Major body stress. High fever, severe flu, surgery, and other stressful situations can cause hair loss, although it may not show up for weeks or months afterward.
- Childbirth. Some women experience hair loss several months after giving birth. The hair usually grows back.
- Medication side effect. A number of drugs can cause sudden hair loss. Certain medications used to treat arthritis, depression, heart problems, high blood pressure, and gout may have this effect.
- Medical treatment. Hair loss may result from cancer treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Your hair will begin to regrow after you complete your treatment.
- Symptoms of a medical illness. Hair loss is a symptom of various conditions, such as thyroid disorders, diabetes, and lupus.
- Poor nutrition. You may have hair loss if your diet includes too little protein, iron, or other nutrients.
- Ringworm or tinea capitis (fungal infection of the scalp). In this type of infection, hair breaks off at the scalp, and the scalp becomes flaky or scaly.
- Alopecia areata. This disease of the immune system is often hereditary, but its cause is unclear.
- Hair treatments. Chemicals used to dye, bleach, straighten, or curl hair can cause damage if they are overused or used incorrectly. Heat from rollers or curling irons and hairstyles that pull hair tightly can also cause hair loss. This is known as traumatic alopecia.
- Trichotillomania. This is an abnormal desire to pull hair out.
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