Hair loss: Causes and cures

man at dermatologist appointmentYou have the telltale signs. Errant strands of hair on your pillow and in your shower drain; a receding hairline; a bald dad or grandfather. Everything points to baldness. So is it possible to stop hair loss in its tracks?

Hereditary hair loss is the most common cause of baldness, affecting 80 million people nationwide. Although it may seem to be a male problem, millions of American women suffer from hereditary hair loss, too, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Male-pattern baldness causes a receding hairline and a bald spot on top of the scalp. Female-pattern baldness causes thinning on the top of the scalp but typically doesn't affect the hairline. (For women, a common medical problem, polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS, is often associated with female-pattern hair loss.) Hair loss sometimes occurs as a symptom of certain illnesses, including autoimmune diseases, or as a side effect of a variety of medications, including blood thinners. Extended periods of stress, rapid weight loss, excess vitamin A consumption or a diet too low in protein or iron can also lead to balding. Even treating your hair too roughly—whether by blow-drying, dyeing or curling in excess or wearing too-tight ponytails daily—may affect your hairline.

Fortunately, dermatologists are often able to treat hair loss, so you may not need to hide your problem beneath a baseball cap. To figure out the cause, your doctor will take a full medical history. Sometimes, changing your hair-care routine, switching your prescription drugs or getting treatment for an underlying medical condition can reverse hair loss.

When hair loss is hereditary, prescription medication can often slow, stop or even reverse the condition. Some drugs are rubbed onto the scalp, while others are taken orally. Note that not all medications are safe for women.

Surgery is another option. During a hair transplant, a doctor removes small strips of scalp from the back of the head, where the hair grows thickly, and grafts small sections where hair growth is needed; the transplanted scalp continues to grow hair in its new location. Scalp reduction surgery is another surgical option; during the procedure, large areas of bald scalp are removed, and the hair-bearing regions of the scalp are shifted so hair grows atop the head. Patients may need to wear tissue expanders beneath the scalp for several weeks before the surgery to stretch the skin, allowing hair-bearing regions of scalp to sufficiently cover the head.

For more information, or to schedule an appointment please visit our Dermatology department.