“Alopecia is a common condition in women with female-pattern baldness affecting around 70% of women over the age of 70. Hair can fall out in many ways including a few strands here and there, in clumps which lead to bald patches or sudden hair loss all over the head leading to complete baldness. Although hair loss in women is common it can be very worrying for some and may need medical attention if the hair loss is unexplained and in large amounts. There are many types of alopecia which your GP can diagnose and provide appropriate hair growth treatment.”
Female hair loss
Hair loss in women
Hair loss is usually associated with men, it’s more common to see a bald man than a bald woman but hair loss does exist in women. Losing your hair as a woman is considered to be more difficult to deal with and cause more emotional stress than in a man, however, many men also take great pride in their hair and losing it can cause significant emotional problems. All of us lose strands of hair everyday that goes unnoticed, it’s a natural process to shed hair and as we get older it’s also normal for hair to thin. However, for some people hair loss can be noticeable and lead to complete baldness, this can often be over a long period of time or can happen suddenly.
There are different types of hair loss in women. The medical term for hair loss is alopecia which covers a broad range of ways the hair falls out, the different causes and the length of time hair loss lasts for. Symptoms of alopecia depends on the type. Loss of hair may be the only symptom experienced for some, whilst other types of hair loss can be accompanied with itching, burning and pain.
What are the types of hair loss?
There are 5 types of hair loss which include:
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition which involves the immune system attacking the hair follicles which results in hair loss. Hair loss in alopecia areata usually starts as a small bald patch and these patches can multiply and sometimes progress to complete baldness. It’s not a permanent condition and hair can grow back.
Androgenetic alopecia, also known as male/female pattern baldness is the most common type of hair loss and is usually caused by genetic and hormonal factors. This type of alopecia usually takes its form as a receding hairline in men and thinning of the crown in women. This is permanent alopecia and hair loss is irreversible.
Scarring alopecias are caused by disorders which damage hair follicles and replace them with scar tissue. The damage is permanent with these type of alopecias and can have symptoms of burning, itching and pain.
Telogen and anagen effluvium
With this type of alopecia there is a change in the telogen phase of the hair follicle which involves a higher than normal amount of hair shedding. Shedding occurs all over the scalp and there is usually an underlying cause. Once this underlying cause is treated hair can grow back.
Traction alopecia occurs when the hair shafts are repeatedly pulled. The way hair falls out depends on the way the hair is pulled. Traction alopecia can damage hair follicles and stop new ones from developing.
Stages of hair growth
There are three stages of hair growth which are known as the anagen, catagen and telogen phases. The anagen stage is the longest phase when the hair follicles are growing which can last around 3-5 years. The longer the hair stays in this phase the longer the length of the hair will be which is usually down to genetics. The catagen stage, also known as the ‘transitional phase’ is where the hair follicles are preparing for the next stage of resting. Hair follicles remain in the catagen phase for 1-2 weeks. The final telogen stage or ‘resting/shedding phase’ lasts for 3-4 months and in this phase old hair will fall out and new hairs will grow.
What causes alopecia in women?
There are many reasons why your hair may be falling out, it may be due to environmental factors or it may be due to a health condition. Hair loss in women is more apparent in their 50s and 60s, however, hair loss can happen to anyone at any age. The causes may be different for temporary and permanent hair loss. Permanent hair loss such as female-pattern baldness is hereditary and caused by genetics.
There are a number of causes for temporary hair loss in women. Changes in hormones can have an effect on hair growth, in men lower levels of testosterone can cause hair loss and this can also happen to women at a lesser degree. Women experience hair loss during the menopausal age when estrogen levels naturally decrease. Pregnancy and birth may also trigger slight hair loss as it’s common for women to lose more hair than usual after giving birth.
Extreme stress and illness can cause sudden hair loss. If someone has gone through a traumatic and intense illness such as cancer, the emotional stress and treatment such as chemotherapy can cause hair to suddenly fall out. Hair loss is a common side effect of chemotherapy which does grow back once treatment has stopped.
Alopecia in women is caused by many other health conditions including:
- Iron deficiency
- Thyroid disorders
- Skin conditions such as psoriasis
- Extreme weight loss over a short period of time
- Certain medications can disrupt hair growth
Once the cause of hair loss has been diagnosed and treated, hair will usually grow back as normal.
Other factors may also cause temporary hair loss which are common amongst women. Women tend to damage hair with cosmetic products such as hair dyes, heated electrical products, tight hairstyles, and aggressive brushing which can result in losing more strands of hair than normal.
How to treat hair loss
For a lot of women if you’re experiencing slightly more strands falling out than normal this may be a result of the self inflicting damage caused by cosmetic products. Keeping your hair in good condition and reducing damaging products will protect the hair follicles and stop hair falling out.
However, if you’re losing clumps of hair, have bald patches, or the hair loss is sudden and causing you concern you should see your GP to find out if there is an underlying condition causing your hair loss. Finding the cause and diagnosing the type of alopecia you have will help you to find the best treatment. There are a number of treatments available for hair loss caused by medical treatments or even by genetics. There are proven hair loss treatments which may not be available on the NHS but can be purchased privately. Speak to your GP about the particular treatment that may be suitable for your condition.
Some treatments that are available for hair loss include:
- Steroid injections/creams
- Light treatment - ultraviolet light is used on bald patches
- Hair transplant
One of the most common treatments used is minoxidil which can be used on both men and women. Minoxidil can also be used on hereditary hair loss such as female-pattern baldness. This treatment is used when hair loss is gradual at the top of the head and it works by dilating blood vessels. Minoxidil helps blood to flow to the hair follicles to promote hair growth.
Minoxidil is the active ingredient in the hair regrowth product, Regaine For Women which you can buy online at Doctor-4-U. Our online doctors can determine whether Regaine is a suitable treatment for your particular condition. Minoxidil is not suitable for hair loss that is unexplained or sudden as there may be a serious underlying reason for this. It’s also not suitable for hair loss that occurs after giving birth.
As well as medical treatment you should also seek out emotional help from support groups or speak to your GP about counselling if your hair loss is causing you emotional distress. Hair loss can be worrying and affect a woman’s daily life but there is treatment and help out there to help stop or slow down hair loss and cope with the effects.