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Help for Hair Loss

Hair loss is a natural part of the cycle of hair growth. Each hair on your head will grow for two to three years before it starts a resting phase. At that time, it begins to fall out. Typically, about 90 percent of your hair is growing at any given time and about 10 percent is resting. That makes regular hair loss minimal and even difficult to notice.

When hair loss becomes excessive, resulting in thinning hair or bald patches on the scalp, factors other than the natural cycle of hair growth and loss are responsible.

Types of hair loss

Although hair loss is often associated with men of a certain age, it can affect men and women of any age. Hair loss can range from a receding hairline to thinning hair to complete hair loss. Hair loss can also affect eyelashes and eyebrows.

The medical name for hair loss is alopecia. There are several different types of alopecia including:

  • Alopecia areata, thought to be an autoimmune condition

  • Androgenetic alopecia, or hereditary hair loss

  • Cicatricial alopecia, caused by scar tissue in the hair follicles

Hair loss caused by a change in the natural cycle of hair (and too much hair "resting") is called telogen effluvium, and it can occur for a number of different reasons.

Causes of hair loss

Abnormal or excessive hair loss can be caused by factors such as:

  • Major stress or trauma—an illness or undergoing a major surgery

  • Fungal infections like ringworm

  • Diabetes

  • Lupus

  • Anemia

  • Emotional stress

  • Eating disorders or nutritional deficiencies including protein and iron

  • Changes in hormone levels caused by thyroid disease

  • Changes in hormone levels caused by pregnancy or menopause

  • Side effects of medications including anticoagulants, antidepressants, birth control pills, and heart medications

  • Excessive vitamin A intake

  • Trichotillomania, a condition that causes people to pull out their hair

  • Genes, which can account for hereditary hair loss and hair thinning

  • Chemotherapy and other treatments for cancer

  • Hair damage from styling

Treating hair loss

Oral, injected, and topical medications can help stop hair loss and promote new hair growth. Minoxidil is an over-the-counter topical hair treatment, and finasteride is a prescription topical medication. Other treatment options include:

  • Corticosteroid injections

  • Anthralin and sulfasalazine, two psoriasis medications

  • Immune system suppressors such as cyclosporine

  • Laser treatments

  • Transplanting hair

  • Removing hairless sections of the scalp (scalp reduction)Expanding the scalp to stretch skin with healthy hair growth

  • Replacing bald areas with parts of the scalp with healthy hair growth (scalp flaps)

You can also take steps to mask hair loss and balding spots. You may want to try a new hairstyle or experiment with fashion accessories such as scarves, hats, or even a wig. Some men opt to shave their entire head for a new look. Don't forget that your exposed scalp is vulnerable to sunburn and sun damage, so protect this skin with sunscreen and a hat any time you're outdoors.

If you're having trouble coping with the effects of hair loss, there are support groups available for both men and women; participating either in person or online can be helpful for dealing with the emotional aspects of this situation.