Get prescription treatment to head off hair loss, without a trip to the doctor
For women, hair loss can be an upsetting experience. If you are going through this transition or are concerned about losing hair, read on for everything you need to know
Pattern baldness is usually associated with men, but women can also suffer from it – and it’s actually the most common cause of hair loss in women. Many women feel distressed and worry that they will lose their hair completely, however this is very rare and most women will only experience some thinning.
What is the normal rate of daily hair loss?
Hair goes through three stages. It starts in the growing phase (anagen) and remains here between three and five years. Then it briefly passes through a two-week intermediate phase (catagen) before it enters the shedding phase (telogen) that roughly lasts about three months. When this cycle is complete, a new one starts all over again.
We normally lose about 50 to 100 strands of hair each day. Although these amounts might sound alarming, rest assured that it's normal. At any point in time, 85 percent of hairs are in the growing phase (balancing out shed hairs), which keeps hair looking the same.
What is female pattern hair loss?
It's also called female pattern baldness and is usually seen at an older age in women than in men. Some women start developing this type of hair loss in their 50s or 60s, while men start much earlier, some even as teenagers.
Through the years, hair follicles begin to shrink, producing thinner and lighter hair that grows less in length, until finally, the hair doesn't reach the skin surface.
What are the symptoms of hair loss?
These take place very gradually over a number of years and decades:
• Hair gets lighter in colour and thinner in diameter
• General thinning of hair. Thinning is more pronounced over the crown
• There's no receding hairline
It's very rare for a woman to lose her hair completely. Most women just experience thinning of their hair to various degrees.
How common is hair loss?
It usually starts after menopause. A third of women over 70 years old show signs of female pattern baldness. White women seem to experience it more frequently than Asian women.
Why does hair loss happen?
There are believed to be three factors responsible for female pattern hair loss:
Both parents can pass on genes that contribute to female pattern hair loss.
Some conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) cause androgen (male hormone) levels to rise, making female pattern hair loss more likely to develop.
Are there any other reasons for hair loss in women?
There are other less common reasons for female pattern hair loss, including:
• Sudden weight loss
• Hormonal changes, such as during or after pregnancy
• Extreme dieting
• Nutritional deficiencies such as iron and protein
• Stress or trauma
• Chemotherapy, often given as part of treatment for cancer
• Thyroid disease - underactive or overactive thyroid
• Autoimmune conditions like lupus
Your GP will be able to examine you and may run some tests to determine which of these may be causing your hair loss. Also see your GP if you notice any of the following:
• Hair falling out in clumps
• Increased rate of daily loss of hair strands
• Bald patches of scalp
• Redness and burning of the scalp
How will hair loss affect my general wellbeing?
Hair loss will not give you any complications or cause any deterioration in your general physical health. However, it's often distressing for women to lose their hair.
You may feel worried or unsettled about the change to your looks and this could lead to a low mood. If this is the case, you should visit your GP – they may be able to refer you for counselling. It’s useful knowing that there's plenty you can do to disguise hair loss, if you'd like to.
Seek help from a patient support group such as Alopecia UK. Here you'll be able to find more information about hair loss in women, how you can manage it, as well as meet with other women going through the same experience as yourself. You can find their website at www.alopecia.org.uk.
How can I manage my hair loss?
If your hair loss is due to a medical condition, then treating the condition itself can result in hair loss stopping or growing back. There are also several other treatment options:
• Minoxidil can be used to help prevent further hair loss and help hair regrowth in women with female pattern hair loss. It's available without a prescription from pharmacies, as a liquid or foam that's applied to the scalp once or twice a day. You may get some scalp irritation as a side effect. Take care not to apply it over broken skin. Hair loss will start again once you stop using this treatment – you need to continue using it to maintain your results. Make sure you read the patient information leaflet for instructions on how to use it
• Use a wig or hairpiece. Wigs may be synthetic, use real hair or have a mix of both. Real hair wigs tend to look more realistic, but they require more maintenance and are more expensive
• Sprays with pigmented fibres can be applied to your hair to give the impression of a fuller head. These can work quite well with hair thinning. However, they tend to come off easily when they come into contact with sweat, rain or in the shower. You'll need to reapply frequently throughout the day and after brushing or washing your hair
• Surgical hair transplantation may also be an option. You have to pay for this privately, it's not available on the NHS. It involves transferring healthy follicles from the back of your scalp to affected areas
• See your GP to find the cause of your hair loss. Sometimes, there may be regrowth of hair once the underlying condition is treated
• Speak to your pharmacist about the available treatment options and which are suitable for you
• It's normal to feel upset when you experience hair loss. Seek support when you need it. Patient groups like Alopecia UK might help, and your GP may be able to refer you for counselling
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