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Help! My Hair is Falling Out? How Much Is OK?

Common causes of hair loss in women & when you should see a doctor

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Young woman wearing underwear, brushing hair
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Question: Help! My Hair is Falling Out? How Much Is OK?

Answer: Everyone loses between 40 and 120 strands a day, depending on how much hair you have, your age, your hormones and your hair's growth cycle. People with fine hair tend to have more of it and therefore will lose more of it than their thicker-haired sisters and brothers. Your hair also thins as you get older, particularly after menopause for women.

A hair follicle goes through 3 stages: a growth stage and a resting stage, which leads to the shedding stage. As soon as old hair falls out, new growth immediately begins, which is why as a woman, you'll probably never go bald even if your shower is clogged with your hair.

While hair loss is normally thought of as a "guy problem," women make up 40% of American hair loss sufferers, according to the American Hair Loss Association. It's important to find out if your hair loss is normal, temporary or long-lasting.

Causes of Normal Hair Loss

Most hair loss is considered normal. Normal hair loss can be caused by these factors:

  • Seasonality. You'll lose the most hair in the fall -- typically November and December when hair reaches maturity in its growth cycle.
  • Aging. Marc Avram, MD, a Manhattan hair transplantation specialist, told Elle Magazine, "As we get older, follicles shrink, producing skinnier, shorter strands; then the follicles start to die off. That rate and the extent of that process is a matter of genetics."
  • Post-partum  Many women notice their hair hardly falls out during pregnancy, but then a few months after they give birth, an alarming amount of hair starts falling out. This is normal. In fact, I experienced this myself starting about 3 months after I gave birth to my son. I'd run my hand through my hair and it would be full of strands. I'd find my hair threaded through my son's hands and toes. It would stick to my clothes and fill up my hairbrush. My post-partum friends and family members reported the same thing. Find out why this is normal and when you can expect it to stop in my article, Help! I Had a Baby and Now My Hair is Falling Out.

Causes of Temporary Hair Loss

Temporary hair loss may be caused by medications or illness. To stop this hair loss, you may consider changing medications to one that's known to not cause hair loss as a side effect. If your hair loss is from illness, once you treat the vitamin deficiency or illness, your hair should grow back.

Here are common causes of temporary hair loss:

 

  1. Anemia. I know of at least two women whose hair started falling out. Blood tests showed both women were anemic. According to dermatologist George Cotsarelis, M.D., director of the University of Pennsylvania Hair and Scalp Clinic, iron deficiency is a common cause of hair loss. The Mayo Clinic reports about 20 percent of women suffer from an iron deficiency.
  2. Illness or intense stress Sometimes hair loss occurs as a result of illness. Stress, excessive weight loss, iron deficiency, lupus and thyroid disorders can also cause hair loss.
  3. Drug-induced Hair loss can be a side effect of some medications. Here's a short list of medications that can lead to premature and temporary hair loss, according to the American Hair Loss Association: Accutane, blood thinners, arthritis medications, bipolar medications, antidepressants, cholesterol, high blood pressure medications (beta blockers), inflammatory drugs and ulcer medications are known to push the hair follicles prematurely into the resting phase. If you are losing hair, you might consider the types of medications you take. Read the drug manufacturer's complete warnings or ask your pharmacist if hair loss is a known side effect. See the full list of potential medication ties to hair loss on the American Hair Loss Association Website.
  4. Oral contraceptives Birth control pills can trigger hair loss in some women who are sensitive to hormonal imbalances. Hair loss can start while taking the pill or in the months after you stop.
  5. Hair pulled too tightly  You can cause hair loss when you pull your hair too tightly over time by putting it in cornrows, tight brands, tight ponytails and hair extensions. These can cause trauma to the hair follicles.

Genetic Disorders That Can Lead to Permanent Hair Loss

Some women suffer from hormonal imbalances that can lead to permanent hair loss. Women with this problem usually have thinning all over the scalp, unlike men, who tend to experience pattern baldness.

If you notice your part is getting wider or you can see your scalp through your hair, you may consult a doctor for blood tests. For severe cases, you might consult a "trichologist," a physician who specializes in hair loss.

How to Diagnose and Treat Hair Loss

Figuring how why a woman is losing hair is tricky. Hair loss in woman can be caused by a host of issues, whereas with men it can almost always be blamed on hereditary male pattern baldness.

There are a battery of tests that can be conducted by a doctor to figure out hair loss causes. You can find out more on the American Association of Hair Loss Website.

As for treatment, the only FDA-approved hair loss treatment is minoxidil. Minoxidil works in 60-70 percent of cases by improving the follicle's ability to produce hair. Read more about treatment options for hair loss. 

More on hair loss from About.com:

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