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More than half of men and women in the United States experience hair loss. About 30% of people have hair loss by age 30 years, and about 50% have hair loss by age 50 years. Hair loss is so common that most of the time it is considered a normal variation and not a disease. Other animals closely related to humans, such as the chimpanzee, also lose their hair.

  • Forms of hair loss
    • Androgenic alopecia - The most common type of hair loss, also called male pattern baldness
    • Traumatic alopecia - Hair loss from hair being torn out
    • Drug-induced alopecia - Hair loss caused by one of many medications
    • Alopecia areata - Patchy, usually reversible, hair loss
  • Hair loss varies widely with race.
    • Japanese men develop baldness less commonly than whites do. On average they also develop balding about 10 years later.
    • Blacks are 4 times less likely to have abnormal hair loss than are whites.
  • Women develop hair loss as frequently as men do, but because of hormonal differences women don’t lose as much hair volume.
    • Differences in hair styling allow women to hide hair loss more effectively than men.
    • A woman may not notice hair loss itself but may notice that her ponytail or braid is getting thinner.
    • Women also have a different pattern of balding than men.
  • Hair loss has few medical complications, but several serious conditions can cause it. In addition, there are some psychological effects associated with going bald. People with hair loss may sometimes be more likely to have a negative body image than those without hair loss.
  • There are 3 cycles of hair growth–growing, resting, and shedding.
    • In most animals these cycles change with the season, and all hairs are in the same part of the cycle at the same time. This is why animals grow a thicker coat in the fall and shed most in the spring.
    • Unlike most animals, in humans each hair has its own pattern of growing, resting, and shedding.
      • Each person sheds hair and regrows hair every day.
      • When this balance is disturbed and more hairs are shed than are regrown, alopecia or hair loss results.

Hair Loss Causes

  • Common causes of hair loss
    • Male pattern baldness
    • Trauma
    • Chemicals
    • Medications such as allopurinol (Zyloprim) and warfarin (Coumadin)
    • Poor nutrition
    • Stress, for example, during a major illness 
  • Uncommon causes of alopecia
    • Poor blood flow
    • Infections such as syphilis
    • Skin diseases such as lupus
    • Cancers
    • Hormone problems
    • Kidney failure
    • Liver failure

Hair Loss Symptoms

  • Most people notice hair loss when looking at themselves in a mirror.
  • You may also find many hairs on your pillow in the morning or in your hairbrush or comb.
  • A woman may notice a decrease in the size of her ponytail.
  • Aside from the thinning hair itself, most people do not have other problems associated with hair loss.

Exams and Tests
Physicians diagnose hair loss by looking at hair amount and hair distribution. Men usually lose hair in an easily recognized pattern. Women usually have about equal hair loss from all parts of the scalp.

  • Charts with pictures of hair loss help to classify the amount and type of hair loss. These include the Hamilton and Ludwig classification charts.
    • Extra tests usually are not needed unless the diagnosis is uncertain.
    • You can do a pull test, examining the pulled hair for different thickness and length.
  • Different thickness and length confirm the most common type of hair loss, androgenic alopecia.
  • Skin problems leading to hair loss may be diagnosed by taking a sample of skin and hair from the affected area. A doctor looking at this under a microscope might find skin irritation or infection as the cause.
  • If hair loss is severe or other signs of illness are present, many tests might be used, including x-rays and blood tests.

Hair Loss Treatment
If hair loss is caused by another illness, treatment of the illness is the best treatment for hair loss. If hair loss is the only problem, then there are many ways to treat it depending on how severe the loss is.

The most important consideration to make when deciding the type of treatment is how much your hair loss bothers you.
Treatment options include grooming techniques, wigs and hairpieces, medications, and surgery.

  • Styling hair to cover the areas with the most hair loss is effective for mild cases. Washing and styling the hair will not cause further hair loss.
  • For more severe hair loss, wigs and hairpieces can provide good results if you are willing to try them. Either of these options can be used in combination with medications or surgery if the results of styling or the hairpiece alone are not satisfying.

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