8 reasons for hair loss and what to do

Did you know most people lose between 50 and 100 hairs a day?1 Those are the hairs you may see on your brush or stuck in the shower drain. That’s totally normal. As old hair falls out, new hair grows in.

But if you notice thinning or clumps of hair coming out, it may be a sign of more significant hair loss. It can be worrisome — and thinning hair may make you feel self-conscious. So, naturally, you may want to figure out what’s behind it.

Sometimes hair loss is a sign of a medical issue. Other times, it’s hereditary. And contrary to popular belief, depending on the cause, it’s not always permanent, explains Praveen Guntipalli, M.D., a board-certified internist in Dallas and medical director of Sanjiva Medical Spa.

“Some types of hair loss are temporary and can be improved with proper treatment and lifestyle changes,” Dr. Guntipalli notes. That’s why, if you notice lots of hair falling out, it’s a good idea to talk to your primary care provider, he advises. “They can do an initial workup and, if needed, refer you to a dermatologist. This ensures a comprehensive approach,” he adds.

Here are 8 common reasons for hair loss. Learn what they are, how to spot the signs and what can be done.

1. Family history

Did one of your parents or grandparents have thinning hair or a balding scalp? Genetics may be behind your hair loss. Doctors call this type of hair loss androgenetic alopecia. It can happen to men and women, and it affects roughly 80 million Americans. It can start happening when you’re still in your teens, although it’s more common in people older than 50.2

Typically, this type of hair loss follows a pattern: In men, hair recedes in an “M” shape from the temples. Women’s hair starts to thin at the top of the head, which may result in a wider middle part.

There are several medications you can discuss with your provider, including:3, 4

  • Minoxidil. This comes as an over-the-counter (OTC) liquid or foam to use on your scalp. It usually takes about 4 to 8 months for new hair to grow. Keep in mind, you have to keep using it or you’ll lose the hair that’s been maintained or grown as a result from treatment.
  • Finasteride. You need a prescription for this pill. It’s not recommended for women who may become pregnant because it can cause birth defects.
  • Spironolactone. This is prescribed as a pill for women only because of its effects on hormones. It should also not be used during pregnancy.
  • Laser treatments. Low-level laser light combs or other devices may help some people.
  • Hair loss shampoos. Can make your hair look fuller and reduce split ends. But they can’t stop you from losing hair.

2. After pregnancy

During pregnancy, high levels of estrogen triggers hair to grow — and keep growing. After pregnancy, as estrogen levels drop, many new moms experience noticeable hair loss or what’s referred to as excessive hair shedding. This shedding usually peaks about 4 months after giving birth. No treatment is usually necessary. It typically stops by the time your baby turns 1, if not before.5

3. After menopause

Female pattern hair loss (FPHL) is more common after menopause. Although FPHL has a large hereditary component, hormones may also play a role. While you won’t become bald, you may notice the part in your hair becoming wider.4

This type of hair loss is typically ongoing, so you may need to treat it. Medications such as minoxidil and finasteride may help. At-home laser treatments and supplements such as biotin and folic acid may help.4

4. Medical conditions

Hair loss may be a sign of other medical issues. Some of these include:2,6

  • Thyroid disease
  • Heart disease (in men)
  • Prostate cancer (in men)
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (in women)
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Alopecia areata

Schedule an appointment with your primary care provider to find out more. They can do an evaluation to rule out an underlying medical condition.

5. Stress

A traumatic or stressful event, such as a death in the family, major surgery or severe illness, may cause you to lose hair between 2 to 3 months after that event. The possible culprit? Too much cortisol, the stress hormone, which affects hair growth.7,8

This type of hair loss is usually temporary — and similar to what happens after pregnancy. You can ask your provider about taking a multivitamin that has iron and biotin in it. Or consider an OTC topical, such as minoxidil, which helps promote hair growth.7

6. Medications

A variety of medications can cause hair loss. These can include:9

  • Antidepressants
  • Cholesterol-lowering drugs
  • Blood thinners
  • Steroids
  • Certain nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Thyroid medications

Talk to your primary care provider. They may be able to switch you to the brand-name version of the same medication or an alternative medication, or they may suggest you take B vitamins or folic acid. It may take 6 months for your hair to begin growing back.9

7. Certain hairstyles

Do you always pull your hair back in a tight ponytail or braids? These sorts of hairdos can cause a condition called traction alopecia. That constant pulling can permanently damage your hair follicles and make it impossible for hair to grow back.10

Try alternating the way you wear your hair every few days. If you go for a tighter look for a while (such as cornrows, tight ponytails or tight braids), try a looser one next. If you feel pain or see damage — such as patchy sections on your scalp — see a dermatologist.10

8. Fungal infections

Infections of the scalp can cause hair loss. One common infection is ringworm. This fungal infection is characterized by bald spots with small black dots, pus-filled sores, and a red, swollen or itchy scalp.11

Talk with your provider. These fungal infections can easily be cleared up with a medicated shampoo. And because the fungus that causes ringworm is contagious, it’s important to clear it up as soon as possible.11

See a provider if you’re concerned about hair loss

No matter what may be behind hair loss, it’s important to bring it to your provider’s attention. Come to your visit with notes about medications and supplements you take, as well as any recent lifestyle changes and information about your hair and scalp routine.

This can give your provider important clues so you can get to the root of the problem — and find a solution.

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