Women often present to their GP with concerns about hair loss. There are many conditions that can lead to thinning of the hair. Here are 15 possible causes- some quite common, some very rare.
Family history of hair loss
If female relatives such as mum, aunts or grandmother have a history of thinning hair, it may be a genetic condition known as androgenetic alopecia. It’s common- around half of women will experience it at some stage, mainly above the age 50. However, sometimes younger women may be affected. Over time, the hair follicles shrink, the hairs become thinner and finer, until they stop growing.
Pregnancy and Childbirth
Many women notice their hair becomes thicker during pregnancy. However, some will experience thinning. It’s important to have this checked by a doctor- whilst it may simply relate to hormonal changes, it may also be due to anaemia (low iron), thyroid disease or other underlying problems. Up to a half of women will experience significant hair loss a few months after having a baby- this is known as “telogen gravidarum”.
Women suffering from an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) or an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) may get generalised thinning of their hair. Symptoms of hypothyroidism include feeling cold, weight gain, low mood, poor concentration and tiredness. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include feeling warm and sweaty, palpitations, nervousness, shaky hands, and unexplained weight loss. A blood test called a “thyroid function test” or “TFT” can be done by a doctor to check for this.
Acute stress or illness
such as major surgery, serious infections, childbirth, or trauma. Affected individuals will notice large amounts of hair on their pillow, hairbrush or in the plughole after a shower. A normal pattern and thickness of hair usually returns within a few months.
Low iron can also lead to thinning of the hair over time. In women, this is often due to heavy periods and/or low intake of iron in the diet (this is particularly an issue in vegetarians or vegans). A blood test to check the blood count (FBC) and iron studies will identify if this is the issue.
Styling and Products
Traction Alopecia is caused by tight hairstyles such as corn-rows or braids that pull on the scalp and may pull the hair out. Some products such as hair-dyes or chemical treatments may also cause hair loss. Brushing too much, heat from hair-dryers and straightening irons can also be to blame.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is a condition that affects 10-20% of women. PCOS may cause women to have few periods (or no periods at all), multiple ovarian cysts, acne, weight gain, or unwanted hair growth on the face, chest or tummy. However, it can also cause thinning of the hair on the head. A doctor can diagnose PCOS based on history, examination, ultrasound of the ovaries and a series of blood tests.
hair loss can be a side effect of a medication ( e.g. beta-blockers, anti-clotting drugs, Lithium, carbamazepine and others). Anyone with hair loss who is on a regular medication should check the patient information leaflet in the pack, or speak to a doctor or pharmacist.
In Alopecia Areata, the hair follicles are attacked by a person’s own immune system, leading to partial or total hair loss. Also, in Lupus, there can be inflammation or scarring of the scalp, leading to hair loss.
Crash-diets, sudden weight loss, eating disorders or poor nutrition
sudden changes in weight, or poor nutrition (particularly if there’s poor protein intake), may lead to hair loss.
sometimes fungal scalp infections such as ringworm (tinea capitis) will cause patches of hair loss.
such as cancer, kidney or liver failure.
Heavy metal poisoning
including selenium, arsenic and thallium.
this can lead to hair loss, amongst other symptoms. It can be caused by low levels of zinc in the diet, chronic diseases or any long-term illnesses that involve diarrhoea.
Too much Vitamin A
if a person over-supplements with Vitamin A, it can cause hair loss
If you have any concerns or further questions about hair loss, it’s a good idea to speak to your doctor.