Ever feel like you were losing an abnormal amount of hair? It's happened to me twice and I picked up some hair loss wisdom along the way.
The first time was following the birth of my son. I knew it was a normal part of my body's post-partum adjustment so paid it little attention. The second time was different. There was no obvious cause. I started out thinking it was just some sort of seasonal shed, but as months passed and my hair kept falling out, I became increasingly worried that I was seeing the surface manifestation of something going wrong on the inside. As so many women do, I set out to find out exactly what was causing my hair to abandon me. Along the way, I learned about the major causes of hair loss in women, how best to distinguish them, how to rule certain conditions out, and what types of doctors and tests one needs to rule out specific causes. Following is my Hair Loss 101 Syllabus for anyone losing their hair and wanting to find the cause at best and rule out major health conditions at minimum.
In my case, I didn't need to rule out cicatricial alopecia (or scarring alopecia) because I had no scalp inflammation or scarring. Though I wear my hair up all the time, I was also sure it wasn't traction alopecia because I was experiencing an all-over thinning, not just along the hair line where my hair is pulled tightest (and I never pull my hair tight anyhow). I didn't have the defined bald spots common with Alopecia areata, which could have meant I was instead developing alopecia totalis or universalis. A dermatologist is the one to see for a conclusive diagnosis of Alopecia areata or its more extreme version, AU.
The all-over thinning I experienced was more characteristic of what one experiences with androgenetic alopecia (genetic male and female-pattern hair loss), thyroid dysfunction, iron deficiency, or hormonal imbalances. So I made an appointment with an endocrinologist. He tested my thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels AND ordered an ultrasound of my thyroid gland. He also tested my blood iron levels.
While my TSH and blood iron levels were normal, my thyroid gland was found to be slightly enlarged. It appears that at some point my thyroid gland was not functioning properly. I'll never know how long my thyroid had been enlarged, but it may have coincided with or triggered my hair shedding. By the time I made it to see the endocrinologist, the shedding had stopped. I was grateful for 4Women.com's transitional head scarves through those hair evacuation and return days. I now have my TSH levels tested annually.
Thyroid dysfunction, nutritional deficiencies and hormonal imbalances are easy to rule out, so for anyone experiencing hair thinning, I recommend visiting an endocrinologist. For other types of hair loss, dermatologists can help you determine whether you have some form of Alopecia areata or an infection that's impacting your hair follicles. If you peruse hair loss websites, you'll discover that many women are unable to determine the cause of their hair loss, even when it persists. While you might not be able to determine exactly what causes your hair to fall out, it can be psychologically helpful to narrow the field by crossing out a, b, c, and d as the causes of your falling hair.