Hair Loss (Alopecia) – Causes, Prevention, Symptoms and Treatment

Hair loss

On average, humans lose between 50 to 100 hairs from their scalps per day. Losing hair from the scalp is a regular occurrence for both men and women, however this health issue as a condition is more common in men. 

The causes of hair loss vary from person to person. It can be a result of hereditary hair loss, hormonal changes, medications or medical conditions. Depending on the individual, many leave the condition untreated and let it run its course. However, in some cases the person may wish to cover it up or get it treated by a professional. 

Here, you will read more about the hair loss causes, it’s symptoms and how you can treat and prevent it. 

What is hair loss?

Hair loss is a common condition which can occur on the scalp or on the entire body. It is also referred to medically as alopecia. Millions of people suffer from it, some take longer to notice it than others. The condition can begin with thinning of the hair or tiny bald patches that are hard to notice for months or sometimes years. 

When it occurs on the scalp, it is often referred to as baldness. There are many causes of hair loss, some are temporary whilst some are permanent. It happens when the hair’s growth cycle is disrupted or if the hair follicle becomes destroyed and replaced with scar tissue, meaning more hair is not able to grow. 

The reason for the growth cycle being disrupted could be due to stress, age, poor nutrition, medications, medical conditions or hormonal changes, which will later be explained individually. 

Hair loss can also occur from varying everyday factors such as rubbing of tights clothes, stress, heat damage. The occurrence can be hereditary or hormonal. Or, it can occur from taking certain medications to developing medical conditions such as alopecia.

Alopecia is an autoimmune disorder that causes unpredictable hair loss in small or large patches on the head and or/body. This disorder affects more than 6.8 million Americans alone and is most common in those over the age of 30

The most common reason and cause for hair loss is due to family history, known as hereditary. This is called male-pattern or female-pattern baldness. For men the usual signs of hair loss beginning is a receding hairline or bald patches. For women, the main sign is thinning hair. 

There are numerous causes, symptoms, treatments and advice for hair loss, which will be discussed in further detail. 

Symptoms of hair loss

Physical symptoms

Losing hair is most common and noticeable when it occurs on the head. It can still take time to notice the condition, however it is sometimes easier to notice the symptoms, those include: 

Gradual thinning on the top of the head

Typically, hair gets thinner at the ends from damage and lack of protein. However, when the hair starts to thin at the top of the head, this can be a sign of hair loss. This symptom isn’t very easy to notice and can take some time for the individual to see it and act upon it. 

Circular or patchy bald spots

Bald spots are an instantly recognisable sign of hair loss beginning. If the spots are small, they can take time to notice. But when they are noticed, it is important to see them as a sign of hair loss and act upon it. They can occur on any point of the scalp, and sometimes even the body. 

Widening of the hair parting

When your parting begins to widen, this can sometimes but noticed as a sign of the condition. It is important to know that this symptom usually comes with age and is just a part of the ageing process. Although, it is a sign of hair loss, no matter what age you are. 

Patches of scaling over the scalp

A scalp scalp can occur due to many reasons. The main one being a lack of good hair care. Dry scalps can happen from hair products, sun or scratching of the head. However, if the signs persist after treating the scalp, this is usually a sign of hair loss. 

Loosening of hairs 

An individual can lose up to 100 hairs per day and that is perfectly normal. If the hair loss speeds up and more hair starts to loosen quicken that usual, this may be a symptom of the condition. Usually, the loosening of hair will become noticeable to the individual when the hair falls out in larger sections or clumps

Full body hair loss 

Loss of hair over the entire body can occur from medical treatments such as chemotherapy. This is normal and the hair usually grows back. 

Losing hair on the body usually comes from other more serious and unpreventable causes such as medical conditions, age and medications. 

Hair loss can occur elsewhere, not only on the scalp. Some conditions can cause an individual to experience thinning or loss of hair on their eyebrows, eyelashes, nose hair, pubic hair and beard too.

This condition is called alopecia. When the hair loss is on small areas of the body like this, it is called alopecia areata. Aside from small areas of the head, face and body, some people can even experience full body hair loss. Some alopecia sufferers can lose hair on their entire body, this type of the condition is called alopecia universalis

It is important to recognise the symptoms as soon as possible and seek advice. Sometimes the symptoms are an early sign of the condition and can be treated and therefore prevented quicker. In some cases the symptoms are harder to recognise and act upon immediately. 

Mental symptoms 

The psychological effects of hair loss aren’t usually seen as symptoms pre condition. Instead, the signs of mental effects show during and after the condition has developed. 

Hair loss can have a significant impact on quality of mental health. Amongst hair loss and alopecia patients, an increase of stress, anxiety, depression and social phobia is common. This is usually due to the physical appearance of the condition, which leaves the patient feeling insecure and uncomfortable. 

There are frequent psychological disorders that develop in alopecia patients, and the mental effects are known to be more of an issue for those who have alopecia over those who have hair loss. This may be due to alopecia being a disorder the patient can not prevent or treat at home. 

Hair loss: causes and risk factors

Physical causes

Hair loss is a very common condition and can be caused in a variety of ways. Some causes may be considered as self inflicted and preventable, however most are natural causes. 

The most common self inflicted cause is due to friction of clothing. In many cases, people can also lose hair on their body and not their scalp due to friction from clothes. This includes rubbing of tight clothing, socks, tights and shoes can encourage hair loss. Overtime hair can become either thin or lose, which is a cause and sign of hair loss. 

For natural causes, this can vary from person to person. The physical causes known here are:

Hereditary 

Hair loss can occur in those who have a family history of the condition. This is the most common and naturally occuring cause. It occurs with aging and the symptoms include a receding hairline, bald spots and thinning hair.

Hormonal changes

Changes in hormone levels can cause thinning or loss of hair. This is more common amongst women, especially those who are pregnant, going through childbirth or through menopause.

Women who also suffer with thyroid problems commonly develop hair loss as a symptom and effect of the condition. For males, hair loss can occur when going through puberty, as it can for females. This is less common but it can happen.

Medication and therapy

Doctors call hair loss due to medication drug-induced alopecia. Many medications can cause damage and impact to the hair. It is most common for loss of hair to happen for patients who take medications for cancer, arthritis, depression, heart problems and high blood pressure.

For those who develop drug-induced alopecia will only see effects after 3 months of taking the medication that has caused it. The symptoms begin with thinning of the hair as opposed to bald spots and is usually at the top of the scalp. 

Like medication, therapies can also be a common cause of hair loss. The most common therapy for this is radiation therapy. Radiation therapy is used to treat cancer and depending on where the cancer is on the body, this is where the radiation therapy will take place.

For example, if it is found in the arm, the therapy will take place there and this is where the hair loss will occur. Radiation does not impact any other areas of the body, just areas where the therapy takes place. 

Stress

Stress induced life events can cause emotional and or physical shock. The event and impact will vary from person to person, but can temporarily cause hair loss. The hair loss will usually happen over a period of months, pre and post stress. This is a temporary cause of thinning and loss of hair, and can be treated.

Hairstyles and products

Certain hairstyles and products can cause hair damage which leads to hair loss. Too much grooming, tight hairstyles and poor hair hygiene are the most common contributing factors. This cause is similar to the friction from clothes as it is caused by the individuals actions and if the impact causes scarring, the hair loss can be permanent.

It is important to take good care of the hair on your body and especially your scalp. Good hair hygiene and looser clothes is an easy way of ensuring hair loss isn’t caused by your actions. 

Mental causes

Mental issues can cause or come from hair loss. It is considered that the two are interconnected and if symptoms of mental health occur pre hair loss, this can be considered its cause. Moreover, the psychological side effects of hair loss can come after the condition has developed and cause post-traumatic stress

Although hair loss isn’t a functional problem, it does pose significant psychological effects due to visual physical appearance being an important aspect of men and women’s daily lives. 

Alopecia patients are known to suffer with mental effects more than those who develop hair loss due to non-medical reasons. The medical condition has shown dramatic results for mental health issues amongst alopecia patients. It is considered that almost 50% of men and women experience alopecia during hair loss. Some develop permanent scars, some develop into a more serious type of alopecia and some manage to treat the condition. All of which may cause detrimental effects on mental health. 

The studies have shown an increase in stress levels in alopecia patients. The level of stress from the individuals in the study presented results showing it to be similar to those with chronic life threatening diseases. Although alopecia is treatable and not life threatening, the visual appearance can cause its patients to suffer more with their mental health.

Mental causes are considered to be more concerning than physical causes due to the long term impact. It is important to seek advice for any symptoms pre or post condition to prevent severe impact. 

Diagnosis of hair loss 

The diagnosis of hair loss can begin from the patient noticing symptoms, such as thinning of the hair, bald spots or an increased shedding of hair. These symptoms need to be seen by a professional who can give a more advanced diagnosis as well as help with recovery and treatments. 

Professions which can diagnose hair loss are doctors, family physicians or gynecologists. These will perform a basic health screening and get you started with the right treatment straight away. If the patient would like a more advanced screening of the hair loss concern, a dermatologist can also issue a more advanced diagnosis, which sometimes includes a biopsy

All diagnosis methods will begin with a close examination of the scalp to see the symptoms and determine the physical cause and check for scarring. If there is no scarring present, this is known as non-scarring hair loss which can be treated quite easily. If there are scars present, this is diagnosed as cicatricial alopecia as the hair follicles have been permanently damaged.

If a biopsy needs to be taken, this will usually include some hair being taken from the scalp for close examination in a laboratory. 

It is important to get hair loss symptoms seen by a professional as the symptoms may be small but the type of hair loss could be prevented or more serious than you think. It is best to get the issue seen to as quick as possible so the right treatment can be started. 

Treatments and how to get rid of hair loss

Medicine treatments

Medicinal treatments are popular amongst hair loss patients. There are several medications that have been examined by scientists, but only two that have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for hair loss and hair regrowth. The two FDA approved drugs are minoxidil, known as Rogaine and finasteride, known as Propecia, both discovered by accident. 

Minoxidil was once only used for high blood pressure and it was discovered due to its hair growth side effects. High blood pressure patients would take minoxidil and later grow hair in random places. This side effect demonstrated how the medication could encourage hair regrowth and is considered to work by increasing blood flow to hair follicles. Due to minoxidil having no effect on hormones the hair regrowth is temporary, therefore it is recommended to continue with the medication to keep up the growth.

The second FDA approved drug finasteride, or scientifically known as Propecia, was an unplanned discovery during the development of a drug to treat enlarged prostate glands. Finasteride helps reduce DHT levels by up to 60 per cent, which is effective in reducing hair follicles from being destroyed. As this is a medication taken only by men as it helps with prostate issues, finasteride does not work on women. 

A medicinal treatment that is recommended for women that suffer with hair loss are anti-androgens. Androgens contain male hormones that can accelerate hair loss in women and it recommended as an alternative for women do not respond well to minoxidil. An anti-androgen drug can reverse the hair loss effect and help inhibit it and/or encourage regrowth. It is especially well known for women who suffer with PCOS, as the ovary syndrome can increase androgen levels in the body, therefore the medication can help reduce the levels.

Other medications that have been tested for hair loss treatment are iron supplements and other vitamins, such as vitamin A, E and B. Vitamins and supplements are advocates for healthy hair, as well as providing many other health benefits. Taking these daily can help improve your hair strength and therefore reduce the probability of hair loss.

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Home remedies

Regular use of home remedies are a good treatment and inhibitor of hair loss. For example, good hair care combined with healthy hair hygiene will encourage regrowth and strengthening of the hair. Home remedies are a simple and easy way of encouraging hair growth and doing your part to treat hair loss or damage. These remedies include regular washing of your hair with protein enriched shampoo, massaging the scalp as often as possible with essential oils, avoid brushing wet hair and taking vitamins A, E and B.

It is also important to recognise that daily activities that stress the body can encourage hair loss, so not partaking in those daily routines could help prevent it from occurring. In comparison, taking part in activities and routines that help destress the body is equally important. 

Smoking, alcoholic beverages and bad hair care can cause bad hair hygiene and reduce hair growth. As well as being bad for your hair, these have many other negative health effects.

Activities that are encouraged for hair growth are daily physical exercise and meditation as they are considered as great ways to destress. It is important to destress yourself to help balance hormones, which are essential for healthy hair and regular growth. 

Therapy

Medical procedures and therapies are still being tested. Since there are 50% of men over the age of 40 and 75% of women over 65 with hair loss, medical therapies were quickly deemed important for hair loss patients. 

The most common surgery for hair loss is a hair implant, sometimes known as hair transplantation. This procedure was first used in the United States in the 1950’s and since its positive reaction for treating alopecia, it has been used around the world. 

Hair implants involve removing a strip of skin from the scalp, usually at the back of the head, and using that area to fill in a bald patch. 

A modern version of hair implants used by surgeons is known as follicular unit transplantation, which was introduced in 1994 and is now used more than 90% of the time for hair loss. This is where the patients hair will be transplanted in groups of 1 to 4 hairs. Surgeons have declared it the safest way to replant hair in the follicles. The result of the modernised procedure is said to look better than the larger “plugs” associated with the older procedure. 

Another therapy that is used as a hair loss treatment is low-level laser therapy (LLLT). This is a FDA approved therapy that has been used to treat hair loss for both men and women. The non-invasive painless light and heat technology works to stimulate the hair follicles which influences regrowth. 

Laser technologies were first used in the 1960’s and since hair loss is a common condition, LLLT was introduced to help treat it. LLLT was first demonstrated by Hungarian physician Endre Mester. He completed a laser test on mice to see if they could encourage hair follicles to rebegin their growth cycle on a shaven area. The test was a success and since then, the technology has been used to treat humans. 

How to prevent hair loss?

Whilst most causes of hair loss are hereditary and are not preventable, there are other types of hair loss which can be prevented. 

At home, patients can encourage the inhibition of hair loss by having healthy hair hygiene. Daily or regular use of strengthening shampoos, supplements and treatments will sustain healthy hair, which may help prevent hair loss. 

The ingredients to look for in these at home products are Rogaine and Propecia, as also discussed in the medical section of this article. These two ingredients are that helping strengthen and maintain healthy hair. They have been identified as ingredients that could help regrow hair, but only at the beginning of hair loss. 

Other daily habits to inhibit hair loss include avoiding tight hairstyles, rubbing the scalp, harsh treatments, medications that cause hair loss and smoking. Treating the hair well to encourage healthy follicles is the best advice for at home prevention methods. 

Whilst there is no treatment to prevent or cure alopecia areata, there are ways it can be treated once developed to encourage the re-growth of hair. This is not an at home prevention method, but a medical method.

Doctors suggest and offer patients a treatment of corticosteroids, which are very powerful anti-inflammatory drugs that suppress the immune system. This is what encourages re-growth and strengthening of hair follicles. 

These hair loss prevention methods are not guaranteed to avoid developing the condition, but they are considered to help maintain good hair hygiene which may encourage the thinning and loss of hair to not develop and worsen. 

Consequences of hair loss

Short and mid term consequences of a patient losing hair are typically down to physical appearance and medication issues.

With loss of hair comes a change in physical appearance and therefore emotional well-being and quality of life. As hair is the most noticeable physical component, it can have a significant impact on how the patient feels about their physical appearance.

However, always remember there are treatments to help and ways to prevent losing hair. Using the advice will help with the situation and if treated quickly and correctly, the short term consequence of feeling insecure due to appearance can be improved.

Mid term consequences from medication can occur if a drug causes side effects. For example, minoxidil can cause scalp irritation or hair growth on other areas of the body that come into contact with the medication. If side effects occur, this can cause mid term consequences until the patient stops the medication. 

There is currently no cure or scientifically approved ways to prevent alopecia areata. There is little evidence to prove that it develops or is encouraged from stress, but there is evidence to show stress can be a long term consequence and after effect of alopecia. Psychological disorders have been detected at a 60% increase amongst alopecia and hair loss patients. The increase in psychological effects demonstrates how the appearance and emotional stress can give a patient long term mental effects. 

Conclusion

Hair loss is a common and natural condition and in the majority of cases, it isn’t harmful. Everyone loses hair follicles everyday, it’s the natural cycle of the hair. There are many scientifically approved medical and at home solutions to treat and prevent the loss and thinning of hair, as well as medical advice and therapies for patients with a case of alopecia where procedures are needed. 

Clinical examinations can quickly determine the case of hair loss and although hair loss can be distressing for its patients, it is important to know that there are many treatments and medications out there to help. It is important to seek medical advice as soon as you notice symptoms, even if they are small, to ensure you get a quick and straightforward treatment. 

If you have any tips or recommendations for remedies and treatments, please leave them here to help others. All help and advice is appreciated.

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