How I Can I Tell If My Female Hair Loss Is Permanent or Temporary?

We almost expect hair loss in men (it is 30% for men under 30 and 50% for men over 50), but we don’t really expect it for women.  Yet if you’re a woman, your chances of experiencing some degree of hair loss at some point in your life hovers around 30%.   Most women who experience hair loss will start to experience it in their 40’s and 50’s, but it can start as early as the teen years.

How Can I Know if My Hair Loss is Permanent or Temporary?

Ultimately, you need to consult with your doctor, but more often than not, temporary hair loss comes on quickly, and if you can identify the cause or causes and address them, you can often reverse the hair loss just as quickly.  Permanent hair loss, on the other hand, usually evolves more gradually, often to the time course set by a specific set of genes.

[box type=”note”]Surprisingly prescription medications get the lion’s share of the blame for causing temporary hair loss. If your hair loss started at some point after taking, or increasing the dosage, of some medication, look at the side effects of the drug. A surprisingly wide array of drugs can cause temporary hair loss ranging from birth control pills, anti-depressants, to diet pills. Specifically many drugs can push an abnormally large number of hair follicles into a resting or dormant state called telogen. When this happens (called Telogen effluvium), the hair shaft will fall out as part of the normal function of a healthy follicle.[/box]

It’s also common for pregnant women to undergo Telogen Effluvium following childbirth.  It typically occurs within a few weeks of delivery, but usually stops within the first year and starts to come back.

Disease, such as Lupus, thyroiditis , diabetes, or anemia can also cause temporary or permanent hair loss in women.

In almost all these cases, you’ll experience sudden hair loss, but only temporarily, and if you identify the cause and take corrective action, you can both stop and reverse the hair loss.

What Causes Permanent Hair Loss in Women?

Hereditary female hair thinning (also called female androgenetic alopecia or female pattern balding) describes the biggest class of permanent hair loss in women. You cannot reverse it (short of surgical hair restoration) and start growing hair again – but you can stop it.

Similar to men, certain genes (that we don’t yet fully understand) cause a unique interaction of hormones and enzymes in persons with the alopecia gene that effectively kills off hair follicles. Women, not surprisingly, have a different, unique hormone-enzyme interaction than men. Researchers have even less clarity about how a woman’s unique hormone-enzyme interaction results in hair follicle death.  A better understanding of how genes causes baldness in men explains why certain drugs designed to protect hair follicles in men is less well understood for women.

Autoimmune disorders may create scalp scarring and cause permanent hair loss in women. With this condition, white blood cells, normally deployed in defense against disease and infection, mistakenly attack the hair follicles.  This may have a genetic cause, but researchers have not yet identified any specific genes.

[box type=”note”]Both types of permanent hair loss, genetic and autoimmune based, comes in three patterns: 1) the hair can fall out in patches, 2) it can fall out from just one location on the scalp, or 3) individual hairs can fall out from seemingly random locations creating generalized thinning across the entire scalp.[/box]

Finally hormone change due to menopause also causes permanent hair loss but rarely a total loss of hair.  In fact most of the above causes permanent hair loss in women do not cause total baldness.  With menopause, the hair follicles do not die but instead a large number of them shift into a prolonged resting phase. This creates thinning. As the ratio of resting hair follicles increases relative to active hair follicles, more hair will fall out and hair density decreases.

Effective Treatments for Temporary & Permanent Female Hair Loss

If you should experience a sudden onset of significant hair loss the first thing to do is take a quick inventory of your overall health, emotional and physical.  If you feel physically fine, look at the stressors in your life and/or your diet.  Illness, prolonged stress, and/or poor diet will most likely explain the temporary hair loss, so if you can identify and address one or more of these causes, you can usually immediately start to recover your hair.

Gradual hair loss, on the other hand, most likely signals the start of progressive permanent hair loss. Nevertheless, you should consult with your doctor or a qualified hair loss specialist to rule out any known temporary causes and/or underlying illnesses.

If you have progressive permanent hair loss, don’t despair.  The science of hair loss and advances in permanent hair loss treatment have today created a wide array of treatment options for women. These range from medications that effectively protect remaining hair follicles, hormone replacement therapy that stimulates dormant hair follicles to grow, advanced hair enhancement materials and attachment techniques that create a more full appearance, to new surgical hair restoration techniques that create an unprecedented natural look.

Dr. John Frank, MD

Dr. John Frank, M.D. is recommended by the International Alliance of Hair Restoration Surgeons, American Board of Hair Restoration Surgery, International Society for Hair Restoration Surgery, American Hair Loss Association, & XM Radio's 'The Bald Truth.' He is an Assistant Professor of Clinical Otolaryngology in Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, and founder of the Anapelli Hair Clinic. He has worked extensively with Dr. Sheldon Kabaker, the former president of the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery well known for his scalp lowering techniques. Dr. Frank has presented & published original research on hair loss & advanced hair transplant techniques. He has treated more than 10,000 hair loss patients and performed over 2,500 hair transplants in NYC, California and world wide over the last 15 years. He's now opened state-of-the-art, hair loss treatment centers in Melville Long Island, Columbus Ohio and in Oakland and Torrance California.

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