Hair loss can affect only the scalp or the entire body. It may be the result of inheritance, hormonal changes, medical conditions or medications. Anyone can experience hair loss, but it is more common in men.
Baldness generally refers to excessive hair loss from the scalp. Hereditary hair loss with age is the most common cause of baldness. Some people prefer to let their hair loss run its course without treatment or hidden. Others can cover it with hairstyles, makeup, hats or scarves. And still others choose one of the available treatments to prevent further hair loss and restore growth.
Hair loss can appear in many different ways, depending on the cause. It may appear suddenly or gradually and affect only the scalp or the entire body. Some types of hair loss are temporary and others are permanent.
Signs and symptoms of hair loss may include:
- Gradual thinning at the top of the head. This is the most common type of hair loss, which affects both men and women as they age. In men, hair often begins to recede from the forehead in a line that resembles the letter M. Women generally retain the hairline in the forehead, but widen the part of the hair.
- Circular or irregular bald spots. Some people experience smooth baldness, the size of a coin. This type of hair loss usually affects only the scalp, but sometimes it also occurs in the beards or eyebrows. In some cases, your skin may cause itching or pain before the hair falls out.
Sudden loosening of the hair. A physical or emotional shock can cause the hair to loosen. Handfuls of hair can come out when combing or washing your hair or even after a gentle pull. This type of hair loss usually causes general thinning of the hair and not bald patches.
People usually lose about 100 hairs a day. This usually does not cause a noticeable thinning of the scalp hair because at the same time new hair grows. Hair loss occurs when this cycle of hair growth and detachment is interrupted or when the hair follicle is destroyed and replaced with scar tissue.
Hair loss is typically related to one or more of the following factors:
- Hormonal changes and medical conditions. A variety of conditions can cause permanent or temporary hair loss, including hormonal changes due to pregnancy, childbirth, menopause and thyroid problems. Medical conditions include alopecia areata (al-o-PEE-she-uh ar-eA-tuh), which causes patchy hair loss, scalp infections such as ringworm and a hair pulling disorder called trichotillomania (trik -o-til-o- MAY-nee-uh).
- Medications and supplements. Hair loss can be a side effect of certain medications, such as those used for cancer, arthritis, depression, heart problems, gout and high blood pressure.
- Radiation therapy to the head. The hair may not grow back the same as it was before.