What Causes Hair Loss?

By Nelson, Melissa

Losing your hair can be a frustrating process, especially because you often have little control over it. In fact, your genes are the most likely cause of gradual hair loss. Hereditary hair loss, or androgenetic alopecia, affects about 50 million men and 30 million women in the United States, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

You have about 120,000 hairs on your scalp. You lose up to 100 hairs each day through the normal process of hair growth and replacement. Normal hair growth depends on a good blood supply to the hair and your overall good health.

Sudden hair loss, however, can be a sign of a serious disease or a side effect of medications. See your doctor about:

  • Red, itchy patches on the scalp

  • Round, coin-sized bald areas

  • Hair loss while you're taking a medication

The primary causes of these non-inherited types of hair loss include:

  • Severe illness or major surgery

  • Underactive or overactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism)

  • Ringworm of the scalp (tinea capitis), a fungal infection seen mostly in children

  • Medications, such as chemotherapy agents and birth control pills

  • Hormonal changes following pregnancy

  • Anemia, or low levels of iron in the blood

  • Tightly braided hair

  • Nervousness, which causes a person to pull out hair

  • Hair treatments that use chemicals or heat; these can weaken the hair

  • Disorders of the immune system

Treating hair loss that is not genetic or permanent will involve the treatment of underlying problems. In addition, more specific treatment will vary based on the cause of these nonhereditary types of hair loss.

Non-drugs ways to help prevent hair loss: Use baby shampoo (it is milder than adult hair formulas), avoid blow-drying your hair, and avoid combing your hair when it is wet (wet hair is more fragile than dry hair).

Two medications may help hereditary hair loss. Men and women can apply the over-the-counter lotion minoxidil to the scalp. This lotion is used twice a day to improve the blood supply to the hair. Finasteride is a prescription pill for men who are at risk for male pattern baldness. It may prevent male pattern baldness if given before much hair loss has occurred. It doesn't work as well at restoring hair that has already been lost.

Hair transplants are another treatment for male pattern baldness. The procedure is expensive and often requires multiple surgeries. The final effect may not be an improvement and may look artificial.

Of course, some people treat hair loss with a new hairstyle, hair weave, hairpiece, wig, scarf, or hat. Others embrace the idea that "bald is beautiful." Whatever you decide, there are many ways to handle hair loss.

Medical Reviewer: [Godsey, Cynthia M.S., M.S.N., APRN, Lambert, J.G. M.D., Lee Jenkins ] Last Annual Review Date: 2008-06-10T00:00:00-06:00 Copyright: Copyright Health Ink & Vitality Communications


Top Features in Skin, Hair and Nails

15 Ways To Get Better Medicine

People who are actively involved in their medical care stay healthier, recover quicker when they're ill, and live longer, healthier lives.