The first thing you notice might be more hair than usual in your hair brush or clogging the shower drain. Or you see that your part is getting wider or that your hair seems to be thinning overall. If hair loss progresses you may wonder, Am I going bald? What’s causing this? Hair loss in women can occur for many reasons. These include:
- Female pattern baldness. This can cause thinning hair on the top or sides of the head or at the crown. This tends to get worse over time, but treatment with topical minoxidil (Rogaine) can help prevent more lost hair and spur new hair growth.
- A stress response called telogen effluvium. If you have a major shock to your physical or emotional health, such as surgery or a death in the family, it’s common to lose more hair than usual two to three months after the event. Telogen effluvium can also result from a sudden change in hormone levels; such a change can be caused, for example, by childbirth. When stress is the cause, hair will grow back over several months.
- A nutritional deficiency or illness. A serious deficiency in protein, iron, zinc, or other nutrients can make hair fall out. Hair loss in women can also be a symptom of a disorder such as lupus or diabetes.
- A side effect of certain drugs. Some medications can cause hair loss. Common culprits include lithium, beta-blockers, warfarin, and heparin.
- Alopecia. This is an autoimmune disease that makes hair fall out in small, round patches. In some cases, it can cause total baldness. A corticosteroid applied to the scalp or injected can help.
- Fungal scalp infection. Some forms of fungi can infect the scalp, making hair break off at the scalp. This can be treated with oral medication.
- Overtreating your hair. Braiding your hair tightly, using curling irons or hot rollers, or coloring your hair can make hair brittle and more likely to fall out.
- Pulling out your hair. This is a mental disorder called trichotillomania; a person afflicted with it will pull out their hair frequently, which can cause patchy bald spots on their scalp or elsewhere on their body.
Preventing Hair Loss in Women
You can prevent some forms of hair loss with a healthy lifestyle and a little TLC for your locks. It also helps to try to reduce stress in your life and eat a nutritionally balanced diet. If a medication is the problem, ask your doctor about switching to something that doesn’t cause hair loss. You can avoid hair loss from fungus by not sharing combs, brushes, or hats with others.
If you want to cover up your scalp while you’re waiting for lost hair to regrow, talk to your stylist about techniques to camouflage sparse areas. Hair weaving and wigs can also come in handy.
When to See a Doctor
Consult your doctor if you suddenly notice hair loss. He or she may take a hair sample for testing if a fungal infection is suspected, or order blood tests if illness or a nutritional deficiency might be at the root of your problem. If you are compulsively pulling out your hair, a doctor can suggest a mental-health professional who specializes in conditions like trichotillomania.
Finding out what’s causing your hair loss is the first step — and it’s also a giant step toward fixing the problem and seeing your hair look healthy again.