It is normal to experience some amount of hair loss on a daily basis. We can see our precious strands from our crowning glory come out during our morning shower, when brushing, blow drying, combing etc. Some amount of hair loss daily during these activities is normal. Normally, a person loses an average of 80 to 100 hair strands in a day. However, sudden hair loss is something else and should not be taken lightly as it can be a sign of some serious health condition. Hair loss, whether in a male or female, can be a very distressing phenomenon, as sudden hair loss can detrimentally affect anyone's self-esteem.
There are multiple causes for different types of hair loss; so finding out the cause of the sudden hair loss can be challenging. Majority of the hair loss seen in people is often not related to any internal or systemic disease. Thinning of hair can simply be from predetermined genetic factors and from the overall aging process of the patient. Mild thinning of hair can be seen in people in their 30s and 40s.
Some important facts about hair loss
- Everyone suffers from hair loss at some point in their lives and it is a very common phenomenon.
- Alopecia is the scientific name for sudden hair loss. This is a condition where there is loss of hair at a faster rate than normal.
- Some of the common causes of sudden hair loss include stress, thyroid disease, low vitamin levels, protein deficiency, anemia and chemotherapy.
- There is a difference between hair loss from decreased hair growth and hair loss due to breakage of the hair shaft.
- Both men and women can suffer from Androgenetic hair loss, but it is more commonly seen in men.
- Alopecia areata is a type of hair loss, which occurs when the immune system of our body mistakenly attacks one's own hair follicles resulting in hair loss.
- In order to prevent sudden hair loss, it is important that one follows good nutrition, good hair hygiene and regular shampooing of the hair.
- Minoxidil (Rogaine) and finasteride (Propecia) are some of the medications, which are used for hair re-growth.
- Men are most affected from hair loss than women. However, women are not completely immune to sudden hair loss, which may not necessarily cause complete baldness.
- Some of the investigations carried out for hair loss include blood tests, such as iron level, complete blood count (CBC), vitamin B level , thyroid function tests (TFT), and a scalp biopsy.
What Can Cause Sudden Hair Loss?
On an average, a single hair follicle grows around ¼ of an inch in a month, and continues to grow for around six years. After this stage, the hair falls out and a new hair replaces it. A person loses about 80-100 hair strands in a day. When there is any disruption in this cycle, then alopecia occurs, where the rate of hair loss is more than that of its re-growth.
Some of the causes for sudden hair loss are:
Physical Stress: This includes any type of physical trauma, such as car accident, surgery, severe illness etc. Patient may experience sudden hair loss during and after the period of physical stress which may trigger a type of hair loss known as telogen effluvium. As mentioned before, hair follows a cycle which consists of a growth stage, the rest stage and the shedding stage. Any physical trauma or event in a person's life shocks the hair cycle and pushes the hair into the shedding stage. Hair loss is commonly seen after 3 to 6 months after the physical trauma.
The Fix: Treatment for sudden hair loss after physical stress or trauma is often not needed as there is re-growth of the lost hair after body recovers from the physical trauma.
Emotional Stress: Stress in any form can lead to severe hair fall including sudden hair loss. There are many events where people can suffer from emotional stress, such as a death of a family member, work pressure etc.
The Fix: Same as in the case of sudden hair loss from physical stress, the hair loss will stop after the emotional stress has abated. Patient should try to take steps to combat anxiety and stress by performing meditation, breathing exercises, talk therapy etc.
Hypothyroidism: This is a condition where the patient has an underactive thyroid gland. Thyroid gland is responsible for producing hormones which are important to maintain metabolism along with overall growth and development of the body. If there is insufficient production of thyroid hormone, then it can cause sudden hair loss.
The Fix: The patient will be prescribed a synthetic thyroid medication, which will help in balancing the thyroid levels which in turn will control the sudden hair loss.
Anemia: Iron deficiency anemia is the most common type of anemia due to which many women can experience sudden hair loss.
The Fix: This is an easily treatable situation where a simple iron supplement helps in correcting the problem. The hair loss will abate along with other symptoms of anemia, such as headache, fatigue, pallor, dizziness and cold hands and feet.
Extreme Weight Loss: Sudden and dramatic weight loss is also a type of physical stress to the body which shocks the system and leads to sudden hair loss. Not eating right and losing rapid amount of weight in a short period of time results in mineral and vitamin deficiencies which contributes to hair loss.
The Fix: After extreme weight loss, patient will experience about a six-month period of hair loss after which it gets controlled.
Pregnancy: Pregnancy also comes under the heading of physical stress, which along with hormonal changes in the body can cause sudden hair loss. Hair loss which is related to pregnancy is often seen after the delivery of the baby.
The Fix: As before, the good news is the lost hair grows back after a couple of months and it is nothing to worry about.
Excessive Vitamin A: Too much of vitamin A either in medications or supplements can also trigger sudden hair loss.
The Fix: Not to worry, as this cause of sudden hair loss is reversible and after the excessive intake of vitamin A is stopped, hair loss also subsides.
Protein Deficiency: Lack of sufficient protein in diet leads to shutting down of hair growth and can cause sudden hair loss.
The Fix: Start eating more protein, such as eggs, meat and fish which are great sources of protein. Vegetarians can consume lentils, tofu, quinoa, peanut butter, hemp seed, almonds etc. for protein.
Male Pattern Baldness: This type of hair loss, which is seen in men, occurs from a combination of male sex hormones and genes. The typical pattern is loss of hair or receding hair line at the temples.
The Fix: Oral medications, such as finasteride and topical medications like Minoxidil (Rogaine) helps in controlling the hair loss and causing re-growth of hair. Surgery is another option where the hair can be grafted or transplanted.
Heredity: The female version of male pattern baldness is known as androgenetic or androgenic alopecia. Women having a family history of hair loss are at a risk for sudden hair loss. Instead of a receding hairline, women may notice that their part has widened along with noticeable hair thinning.
The Fix: The same medications used for men can be used for women, such as Minoxidil (Rogaine) to help re-growth of hair of to maintain the remaining hair.
Female Hormones: Just like hormonal changes in pregnancy, women can also experience fluctuations in their hormones if they change their birth-control pills or come off of them. This may lead to telogen effluvium, and the risk for it is more if there is a family history of hair loss. Change in a woman's hormonal balance occurring during menopause also has the same result of hair loss.
The Fix: If you are starting a new medicine or birth control pill, then you need to talk to your doctor regarding changing back to the same pill or alternative birth control.
Vitamin B Deficiency: Decreased levels of vitamin B are another correctible cause which can contribute to sudden hair loss.
The Fix: This is a correctible condition like anemia, where supplementation and dietary changes help in correcting the problem. Natural vitamin B can be found in meat, fish, non-citrus fruits and starchy vegetables.
Autoimmune-Related Hair Loss: Also known as alopecia areata, in this condition hair loss occurs when the body's immune system mistakenly attacks the hair follicles leading to sudden hair fall.
The Fix: The first line of treatment for alopecia areata is steroid injections. Medicines like Rogaine can also be used. The course of Autoimmune-Related Hair Loss is unpredictable where the patient may experience hair re-growth which can fall again later.
Lupus: This is also an autoimmune disease, which can cause sudden hair loss. Here again the body's immune system attacks the hair follicles considering them as foreign targets resulting in hair loss. Individuals with this type of hair loss will not have re-growth of hair.
The Fix: If the patient has mild hair loss, then they can try to camouflage it by changing their hairstyle.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): Polycystic ovary syndrome is also a condition where there is hormonal imbalance in the sex hormones. Excessive male hormones can cause ovarian cysts, weight gain, menstrual cycle changes, increased risk of diabetes and infertility along with hair loss.
The Fix: It is important to treat PCOS to correct the hormone imbalance. This will help in stopping the hair loss. Treatments of PCOS includes following a balanced diet, daily exercise, and potential use of birth control pills.
Chemotherapy: Most of the drugs which are used to fight cancer cause sudden hair loss.
The Fix: After the chemotherapy is stopped, patient will have re-growth of hair, but it will usually have a different texture.
Certain Medications: Some classes of medications also can lead to sudden hair loss; some of which include blood thinners, beta-blockers and some antidepressants. Other medicines, such as methotrexate, lithium and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can also cause sudden hair loss.
The Fix: It is important to determine which medicine is causing hair loss and consult with your doctor about decreasing the dose of the offending medicine or changing to another medicine.
Over Styling: This is one of the common root causes of hair loss in the present time and age. Vigorous over styling and other harsh hair treatments can cause sudden or gradual hair loss. One should try to avoid certain types of hair styles, such as hair weaves, tight braids, corn rows and chemicals to straighten the hair, or application of high heat to the hair. As all these practices actually affect the hair root, chances are that the hair may not grow back.
The Fix: It is important to avoid such styles and treatments to avoid putting too much stress on the hair. It is also highly recommended to use a conditioner after shampooing the hair, to allow the hair to dry naturally and restrict the use of heat appliances on the hair such as hair straightener and curling iron.
Trichotillomania: This is an impulse control disorder where the patient feels the need to compulsively pull his/her hair out. The patient is always playing and pulling their hair which results in hair loss. Trichotillomania usually starts before the before the age of 17 and occurs in women more than men.
The Fix: Medications, such as certain antidepressants can be effective in treating this disorder which in turn will help with the sudden hair loss. Patient can also undergo behavioral modification therapy to combat this problem.
Anabolic Steroids: Sudden hair loss can occur in individuals who take anabolic steroids, such as athletes, to bulk up their muscle quotient. Anabolic steroids affect the body in the same manner as polycystic ovary disease (PCOS).
The Fix: Hair loss abates after the drug is stopped.
Aging: Hair loss is a natural part of aging process. Many men and women experience hair loss or thinning of the hair in their 50s and 60s.
The Fix: It is important to follow a healthy diet and exercise regime to combat sudden hair loss from aging. Women can use wigs, scarves and get their hair styled such that it covers the thin spots.