From the time it sprouts on the head until it falls, human hair goes through three stages: the anagen (growing) phase, the catagen (transitional) phase, and the telogen (resting) phase. Typically, females lose 50 to 150 hairs daily as part of the normal shedding process, but a variety of influences may trigger more frequent hair loss in women or cause it to become thinner over time.
Some women suffer from a hereditary condition called androgenetic alopecia. Although it usually affects women in their 50s or 60s, it can happen any time. Normally, new hair is as strong as the hair that is shed, but in women with genetic hair loss, the new hair grows in finer and thinner. A variety of diseases also contribute to hair loss in women.
The body depends on thyroid hormone for many functions, from metabolism and heart rate to hair, skin, and nail growth. When the body produces too little thyroid hormone, a number of symptoms can result like unexplained weight gain, fatigue, depression, and foggy thinking. In addition, skin becomes drier and hair and nails become more brittle and break more easily. Concerned women can visit a health care provider for a simple blood test to determine if they have hypothyroidism.
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While the immune system protects most people from disease, in people with lupus, it turns on the body and attacks healthy tissues. Symptoms of lupus include a butterfly rash across the nose and cheeks, chronic fatigue, headaches, oral ulcers, and swollen, painful joints. It can also cause mild hair loss in women and men or more severe hair loss, accompanied by a rash on the scalp. To identify lupus, doctors may perform a diagnostic exam and take a blood test.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
Up to five million American females suffer from polycystic ovarian syndrome, a condition which causes the ovaries to produce too many male hormones. Sometimes starting as early as junior high, this disease creates symptoms like acne, excessive facial hair, irregular periods, ovarian cysts, and hair loss on the scalp. Women concerned about PCOS can visit a health care professional for a blood test.
Certain influences cause hair to shift more quickly from the growth phase to the shedding phase. Known as telogen effluvium, this phenomenon may result from pregnancy, major surgery, extreme weight loss, or high levels of stress. It can also be triggered from medications like antidepressants, beta-blockers, NSAIDs, and diuretics. To determine a relationship between hair loss and stress, pregnancy, weight loss, or medications, a doctor may conduct a thorough interview and check hair for club-shaped bulbs on the roots, an indicator of a completed cycle of growth.
The best course of action for women concerned about hair loss is to consult with a health care professional. Diagnosing the cause of female hair loss provides possible strategies for reversing the process and growing stronger, healthier hair.