A few years ago, your biggest hair scare was finding a few grays. Now, your hair may be thinning, too. Half of all women have some hair loss by age 50. It can be emotionally traumatic, but hair loss usually isn’t a health threat. Sometimes, though, it can signal an underlying medical problem. If you experience persistent hair loss, see a dermatologist. Check out these six common culprits:
Female pattern hair loss, a hereditary condition, usually occurs after menopause. It’s linked to the hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT). DHT levels typically rise after menopause and can shrink hair follicles, causing them to produce finer hairs or block hair growth entirely. Hair tends to thin throughout the scalp while the hairline stays put. Telltale signs include a thinner ponytail and a widening part.
Treat it: Minoxidil (Rogaine), the only FDA-approved treatment, stimulates hair regrowth in about 25 percent of women. The over-the-counter solution is applied to the scalp. Hair transplants also work. For mild hair loss, a new hairstyle may be all you need.
Four million Americans suffer from alopecia areata, in which the immune system attacks hair follicles, causing hair to fall out in patches. Some women may have only one bout, in which they lose a few patches of hair; for others, it can come and go for years. Other autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, can also cause hair loss.
Treat it: There’s no cure for alopecia areata, but minoxidil, corticosteroids and other drugs targeting the immune system may stimulate growth. Hair loss from other autoimmune diseases usually improves with disease treatment, but some lupus drugs can cause hair loss.
An overactive or underactive thyroid generates abnormal levels of thyroid hormone, which may cause hair loss.
Treat it: Drugs that stabilize hormone levels can restore growth.
Some drugs such as beta blockers, anti-depressants and blood thinners may cause hair loss in some women. So can chemotherapy and radiation.
Treat it: Your hair will grow back when therapy ends, but talk with your healthcare provider to see if your medications can be changed.
Excessive blow-drying, perming, braiding and styles that strain the scalp can damage follicles, exacerbating an existing hair loss problem or increasing your risk of developing one.
Treat it: Go natural and save the major makeovers for special occasions.
A stressful event, such as a divorce, can cause hair loss by the handful.
Treat it: Relax. OK, easier said than done. But the good news is that stress-induced hair loss is usually temporary.