In a survey of women who had suffered from noticeable hair loss, half said they had seriously considered suicide and the other half said it had badly affected their marriages. It’s obviously a condition that deserves to be taken seriously by the medical profession, yet until recently there has been a marked disinterest.
‘A lot of people get the feeling that doctors aren’t interested if you go to see them about hair loss,’
‘It’s not life-threatening, it’s not even painful. But it can ruin people’s lives.’
Hair naturally changes in thickness and quality at different times of life. After childbirth, for example, many women find they’re temporarily ‘moulting’ as their hormones change. After the menopause, too, reduced hormone levels usually leave hair a little thinner. But if your hair starts falling out, don’t just accept it.
‘It’s a medical problem, not a cosmetic problem,’
‘It should always be investigated to determine whether there’s a background condition that needs treating.’
Hair loss can take one of several different forms. With alopecia areata, hair starts falling out in patches. This may continue till there’s none left on the body – though a third of sufferers just develop a one-off bald patch, after which the hair grows back and never causes any further problems. Alopecia areata (thought to be an auto-immune condition, in which the body attacks itself) can be triggered by thyroid conditions, anaemia, vaccinations or stress. A tendency to this kind of hair loss sometimes runs in families, along with asthma and eczema.
Male-pattern baldness, or alopecia androgenetica, can affect women too. The hair becomes thin or leaves a bald patch on top of the head. This can be a sign of hormone problems, either caused by a medical condition such as polycystic ovary syndrome or as a reaction to the progestogens in some contraceptive or HRT pills.
Some people lose their hair in the aftermath of a severe shock such as a serious accident or bereavement – a condition called telogen effluvium, in which trauma disrupts the hair’s natural growth cycle so that it all falls out at once. This can also be triggered by unhealthy eating.
‘The commonest cause in women is a nutritional deficiency.’ Avoid yo-yo dieting and crank diets. If you’re not eating animal products, make sure you have enough protein, zinc and iron from other sources, and take vitamin B supplements.
Things have moved on since a GP said not to worry since there were some very nice hats in the shops. Hair loss causes as significant an impact on quality of life as severe illness such as psoriasis.
Treatments for Hair Loss
A lotion called minoxidil has been shown to help alopecia areata when used with the steroid drug prednisolone. Though steroids can have serious side effects, including raised blood pressure and bone-thinning when taken for long periods.
Another course of action is to try to irritate the scalp into producing hair again – amazingly enough, this often works. We use a chemical called diphenylcyclopropenone (Diphencyprone) or leaves from the plant primula obconica.
Minoxidil has been shown to help alopecia androgenetica, with a success rate of two thirds reported for the 5% prescription formula and about one third for the 2% over the counter version. Drugs such as the contraceptive pill Dianette can be used to bring the hormones back into balance.
A new drug called finasteride (Propecia) is available on prescription for men, though it has not yet been tested enough to rule out possible harmful effects on women, and it is suspected of causing damage to babies in the womb.
Whatever your hair-loss problem the first step is to make an appointment with a trichologist.