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Dr Mike Forsythe on Hair Loss and Its Causes

Dr Mike Forsythe on Hair Loss and Its Causes

A few months ago, a male patient of mine proudly declared that he believed there to be only 3 certainties in life; death, taxes and losing one’s hair. He had made his peace with his new found baldness, but for many people hair loss can be very distressing.

My patient was wrong of course - not everyone is affected by the condition - but it does highlight how common a problem this is. And it’s not just men that are affected; there are different types of hair loss and different reasons as to why you might suddenly find your precious locks clogging up your plughole that can affect both men and women.

The medical term for hair loss is alopecia and, as is often the case when it comes to medical conditions, the terminology can be confusing. For the purposes of this blog post we will focus on some of the more common causes of hair loss, and discuss what can be done about them.

The most common cause of hair loss is Androgenetic Alopecia, or as it is more widely known, male and female pattern baldness. This is linked to hormonal and genetic factors and so it often runs in families. It typically results in a receding hairline or thinning around the crown in men, whilst in women it leads to diffuse thinning over the top of the scalp.

Alopecia Areata. This is an autoimmune condition where your immune system attacks hair follicles, leading to hair loss in distinctive small, round patches on the scalp or other parts of the body or, in the case of Alopecia Universalis, complete loss of hair from both scalp and body. Some people who experience already suffer from other autoimmune conditions or have family members who do.

Often hair loss won’t be quite so obvious. It may be that you just notice that your hair is thinner than before, or that your hairbrush or comb seems to be accumulating more hair than usual. If this is the case, it may be that you’re experiencing telogen effluvium. The hair on your scalp has a normal life cycle lasting about 3 years, but if much of your hair enters its ‘resting phase’ prematurely, it can lead to noticeable thinning of the hair. Classically this occurs between 1-3 months after a major stress on the body, whether that is childbirth, or a significant illness, accident or operation. There isn’t a cure as such, but the good news is that your hair will usually return to normal within a few months.

Sometimes, hair loss is caused by a more imminently reversible cause, such as a nutritional deficiency or a coexisting medical condition. Lack of iron, zinc and vitamin D can result in hair loss, as can thyroid disorders, lupus, diabetes and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). This is where a blood test might be useful. If a reversible cause of hair loss can be identified early, steps can be taken to address the issue.

Hair loss is not an uncommon problem and, although hair loss is often simply a result of the genetic hand we’ve been dealt, there are a number of underlying conditions that may be contributing.

Take a look at the panels on offer on our website; a blood test might be a sensible first step. 

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