All About Alopecia

You lose dozens of hair strands each day, but when does a normal process turn into a problem?

womens-04-16Shedding is a fact of life: The head normally discards 100–125 hairs per day, according to the American Hair Loss Council. Falling out is the final phase of hair’s life cycle. It can grow for up to six years at an average length of approximately half an inch per month, according to the National Institutes of Health, before entering a period of rest. When a hair drops, a replacement should swiftly start growing.

Hair loss—also called alopecia—occurs when shedding exceeds the normal amount or new hair doesn’t appear. In the minds of many, hair loss is a man’s worry, but the reality is that four out of 10 people in the United States with thinning hair are women, according to the American Hair Loss Association.

A Real Head-scratcher

A variety of conditions can lead to hair loss, including:

  • Certain skin and autoimmune diseases
  • Congenital or gradual damage to hair
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Iron and vitamin deficiencies
  • Medications, including certain oral contraceptives
  • Physical or emotional stress

The most common type of hair loss among women is female pattern baldness, which occurs when thinning spreads outward from the hair part across the scalp. Researchers suspect aging, family history and hormone changes, particularly after menopause, contribute to the condition. Female pattern baldness won’t improve without treatment. Speak with your physician if thinning hair is affecting your quality of life. He or she can rule out other causes of hair loss and may prescribe medication to slow, halt or, in some cases, reverse your shedding.

Pattern of Prevention

If your hair drops at a normal rate, take simple steps to help your locks remain locked in place for the duration of each hair’s life cycle. Start by changing your behavior. If you have a habit of idly twisting or tugging your hair, stop—you could damage it. Pulling your hair back into a ponytail day after day could also break the strands, so vary your ‘dos.

Other preventive measures include:

  • Ensure you’re getting enough iron and vitamin B. Beans and green, leafy
  • vegetables are good sources of both.
  • If you take oral contraceptives, ask your physician how they might affect
  • your hair.
  • Reduce stress.

Finally, don’t take your hair for granted. It is part of what defines you, and it deserves a little tender, loving care.

This article was reviewed by Susan Benson, M.D., F.A.C.O.G., OB/GYN with St.Vincent Medical Group.

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