Image credit: Flickr
Image credit: Flickr

Medically termed alopecia, hair loss refers to loss of hair, primarily on the scalp. The condition doesn’t pose any danger or hurt the affected individual medically, but the psychological effects can be colossal. Alopecia could be an isolated condition or caused by a medical condition or disease. The hair loss may be permanent or temporary based on its type, cause and outcome.

Alopecia is an umbrella term with a variety of hair loss disorders under its arm. The kind or pattern of hair loss, vulnerable body parts, recovery period, etc. may or may not vary with the actual hair loss type. Therefore, the symptoms, causes, treatment and prevention options may differ based on the alopecia or hair loss type.

Hair Growth Cycle

The hair growth cycle consists of three phases:

  • Anagen (actively growing hair – lasts 2 to 4 years)
  • Telogen (resting phase – lasts 2 weeks to a month)
  • Catagen (a phase in between anagen and telogen – lasts a month to four months)

This standard hair growth cycle is, however, not in synchronization and hairs could be in any of the three stages anytime. The hair on other body parts such as eyebrows, eyelashes, arm and leg hair, have a shorter anagen cycle – usually a month.

Types & Causes

There are different types of hair loss: male pattern hair loss, telogen effluvium, and alopecia areata being the common kinds. Other causes include anagen effluvium, alopecia totalis, and alopecia universalis, to name a few. Each hair loss type has its unique set of causes or triggering factors. However, there are some common underlying hair loss issues, which include:

  • Aging and heredity.
  • Hormonal imbalances – for instance, during childbirth or when under massive emotional stress.
  • Inflammatory skin diseases or scalp conditions such as seborrheic dermatitis or dandruff, which destroy or damage hair follicles.
  • Specific medications such as blood thinners (anticoagulants), pills for gout, heart problems, birth control or high blood pressure.
  • Medical treatments such as chemotherapy.
  • Fungal or bacterial infections.
  • Diseases such as diabetes or lupus.
  • Specific hair treatments or hairstyles such as cornrows or pigtails, hair rollers.
  • Nutritional deficiencies, such as iron and zinc deficiency; or excessive nutrient intake – for instance, too much of vitamin A can cause hair loss.
  • Scalp calcification

Complications

As aforementioned, hair loss doesn’t pose major medical threats. It primarily results in an individual experiencing extreme distress or social embarrassment. This could lead to reduced quality of life, which may cause psychological issues. On the physical front, an exposed scalp due to hair loss could be vulnerable to injury and sunburn.

Diagnosis

Hair loss diagnosis may vary with the specific hair loss type. But there are common diagnosis measures, which include:

  • A hair pull test to see how many hairs come out, or ascertain the amount of anagen and telogen hairs.
  • Blood tests to check thyroid function, haematology, and serology.
  • The doctor could perform a physical exam to check for other hair loss causes.
  • A scalp biopsy wherein a few cells are extracted for microscopic examination to check for underlying infections.
  • Light microscopy wherein hairs are trimmed and then examined to uncover possible hair shaft disorders.

Treatment

Generally, hair loss is not easy to treat or remedy, and people who have thinning hair or have lost hair rarely grow their hair back, without surgery. However, the following measures may help reduce hair fall and in some cases regrow thinning hair.

  • Treating infections and deficiencies.
  • Discontinuing hair loss-causing drugs, or doctors prescribing a different medicine.
  • Adopting anti-inflammation measures.
  • Correcting hormone imbalances, if any.
  • Using follicle-stimulating medicines such as minoxidil and finasteride.

Prevention

If genetic, hair loss is hard to prevent. Otherwise, adopting a healthy lifestyle can help mitigate hair problems. The following can also contribute to overall hair health:

  • Drying hair naturally or not resorting to hair dryers.
  • Reducing or avoiding chemical or harsh hair styling and maintenance procedures such as hair irons, rollers, etc.
  • Adopting loose hair styling or avoiding techniques or habits that put hair strands and their roots under physical stress.
  • Avoiding obsessive pulling, rubbing, or twisting of the hair.
  • Increasing nutrient (minerals and vitamins) intake: zinc, iron, folate, vitamin B, and calcium.