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Health-Related Reasons For Hair Loss in Women


According to the American Academy of Dermatology, most people lose between 50 and 100 strands of hair every day. On days when the hair is washed, it can be up to 250, says WebMD who talked to Wendy Roberts, MD, a dermatologist at a private practice in Rancho Mirage, Calif. So while a little bit of hair loss in the shower and throughout the day is normal, but when women experience an unusual amount of hair loss, it’s most likely due to an underlying health condition.

Widow’s peaks, bald spots, thinning hairlines, and comb over’s— typical for aging men who have a family history of male pattern baldness. However, for women, hair loss or thinning locks typically indicate another underlying health issue. Most often, it’s one of these 20 health-related culprits that cause sudden hair loss in women…

1. Pregnancy

You really give your body over to growing and supporting new life when pregnant. If you don’t believe that statement ask one of the gassy, hemorrhoid-suffering, migraine anguished women out there. The mix of stress and hormones can also cause temporary hair loss—both during pregnancy and after a difficult delivery.

2. Anemia

Roughly 10-percent of all adult women suffer from iron deficiency, which may cause temporary hair loss. Luckily, anemia can be easily fixed with a daily iron supplement, which will also improve headaches, dragging energy levels, and low body temperature as well.

3. Stress or Anxiety

A physical or emotional trauma—including the death of a parent, pet, or spouse, as well as an injury, career change, relationship stress, or financial worry—can all trigger sudden and temporary hair loss for affected women. Luckily, once the emotional or physical stress subsides, your hair will begin to grow back normally in a few months.

Why does stress cause us to lose our hair? According to Cosmopolitan, it raises androgen (male hormone) levels which causes hair loss. “Stress may also trigger scalp problems, such as dandruff, disrupt eating habits and mess with the digestive system — all of which can have a negative impact on hair,” writes the source.

4. Eating Disorders

Unhealthy weight loss can physically traumatize the body so severely that your hair may thin and fall out.  Particularly, eating disorders, like bulimia or anorexia nervosa, cause drastic vitamin and mineral deficiencies that shock the body and deprive it of the necessary nutrients for growth and development.

5. Protein Deficiency

If you’re a vegan, a vegetarian, or you just don’t consume adequate levels of protein your long, thick locks may suffer the consequences.  Lack of protein in your body will stifle healthy hair growth within a 3 to 6-month period. So ensure you’re eating adequate substitutes (i.e., nuts and beans) if you’re forgoing animal proteins.

6. Hypothyroidism

An underactive thyroid gland will wreak havoc on your body—resulting in hair loss, raging hormones, weight fluctuations, and energy drain. Hypothyroidism limits the hormones necessary for metabolism, hair growth, and other major body functions.

“The thyroid gland helps to regulate the body’s metabolism by controlling the production of proteins and tissue use of oxygen. Any thyroid imbalance can therefore affect hair follicles,” says Anabel Kingsley, a leading Trichologist at the Philip Kingsley Clinic in London to Cosmopolitan. The source also notes that untreated hypothyroidism can turn into anemia which can also cause hair loss.

7. Birth Control Pills

Messing with female hormone levels is never a pretty sight. Like pregnant and menopausal women, those who stop taking birth-control pills can suffer sudden hair loss, or telogen effluvium, a condition caused by hormonal imbalance that shrinks hair follicles.

Even if you’re not stopping taking birth controls and simply changing to a different hormonal type of contraception, it can affect things like hair loss. “Whether you’re just starting it, discontinuing it, or changing brands, your body can react by causing the hair to go into an increased shedding mode,” says Francesca Fusco, MD, dermatologist at Wexler Dermatology in NYC and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai to SELF.

8. Steroid Use

Both men and women athletes can suffer the consequences of hair loss due to anabolic steroid abuse. However, hair should grow back in time once the drugs leave your system.

9. Autoimmune Conditions

Many autoimmune conditions, like lupus or Crohn’s Disease, will result in immune cells that mistakenly attack the body and cause issues like permanent hair loss or bald patches.

“An autoimmune condition makes the body recognize its own hair follicles as foreign and it attacks them and makes the hair fall out,” says Francesca Fusco, MD to SELF. Some common autoimmune conditions that cause hair loss are lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disease, certain types of anemia, or alopecia areata.

10. Hormone Imbalance

When in doubt, blame it on the hormones! Just kidding…a hormonal balance can actually cause hair loss in women, along with a number of other annoying side effects. Whenever our hormones are all out of whack is can cause all kinds of nasty things like weight gain, acne, and yes, hair loss.

“Hormones play a huge role in regulating the hair growth cycle,” says Anabel Kingsley, a leading Trichologist at the Philip Kingsley Clinic in London when talking to Cosmopolitan. “Oestrogens (female hormones) are ‘hair friendly’ and help to keep hairs in their growth phase for the optimal length of time. Androgens (male hormones) are not very hair friendly, and can shorten the hair growth cycle.”

Endocrine disorders like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome can cause an excess of androgens which then causes hair loss. “The extent of this is often down to genes. If you have a genetic predisposition to follicle sensitivity, a hormonal balance can affect your hair more than it would someone who does not have a predisposition,” says Kingsley.

11. Vitamin B12 Deficiency

Just like an iron deficiency can cause hair loss in women, so can a vitamin B12 deficiency. It will also cause tiredness and an overall lack of energy, so if that sounds familiar, then this might be the problem. “Vitamin B12 deficiency often causes hair loss as it can affect the health of red blood cells, which carry oxygen to your tissues,” says Kingsley to Cosmopolitan. “It’s most common in vegans as you only obtain B12 through animal proteins.” If you think you’re suffering from a lack of vitamin B12, try eating any of the foods on this list of Healthy Foods That Pack a Vitamin B12 Boost!

12. Dramatic Weight Loss

Our body can have a similar reaction to physical stress as it would to emotional stress. Physical stress can include things like dramatic weight loss. Anabel Kingsley, a leading Trichologist at the philip Kingsley Clinic in London told Cosmopolitan that “6-12 weeks after dramatic weight loss, whether it be intentional or unintentional, hair commonly comes out in excess.”

“While our hair is incredibly important to us psychologically, physiologically it is non-essential; we could survive without it with no detriment to our physical health. This means that any nutritional deficiency often first shows up in our hair,” says Kingsley. This just reinforces the fact that instead of crash dieting or losing weight in unhealthy ways, people should try living a more well-rounded and balanced lifestyle in order to avoid unforeseen side effects like hair loss.

13. Age

There are a lot of unfortunate things that come with aging like wrinkles, menopause, weight gain, etc, etc. It’s pretty clear that as we age, our body does too. In some cases it might happen sooner than we’d like or think! The best way to avoid this or slow it down is to live a healthy lifestyle by exercising regularly and eating healthy. Unfortunately, it will catch up with us at some point and part of aging is hair loss or thinning. “Hair loss becomes more prevalent leading up to and after the menopause….it’s important to realize that our hair ages, and as we get older, hair naturally gets finer. It’s a totally normal part of the aging process,” says Kingsley to Cosmopolitan.

14. Dandruff or Scalp Psoriasis

Dandruff can be not only uncomfortable as it causes us to itchy and scratch our head constantly, but those little white flakes can also be embarrassing! To make matters worse, all that itchy and scratching can cause us to shed a few more hairs than normal. Luckily, dandruff can be easily treated with zinc pyrithione shampoo, says Francesca Fusco, MD, dermatologist at Wexler Dermatology in NYC and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai to SELF.

“Consistency is the trick,” says Fusco. Find a shampoo or conditioner that helps treat it (she recommends Clear Complete Scalp Care Anti-Dandruff System), and use it on a regular basis. If you’re suffering from psoriasis on the scalp, consult with a dermatologist to help treat and restore your scalp back to normal.

15. Surgery

Similar to stress, WebMD points out that people can start to lose their hair after suffering some kind of intense physical trauma. This could even include surgery. “Someone can have surgery and be just fine and then two weeks later their hair starts falling out,” says Wendy Roberts, MD, to WebMD. “It can be very scary when it starts falling out in big clumps.”

Cleveland Clinic also includes extreme physical shock or stress as a common cause of hair loss in women. In addition to surgery, it might include giving birth, rapid weight loss, or certain illnesses. These might cause more hair loss than normal, even when in the resting phase. If this is the case, the hair should grow back over time.

16. Medical Therapies and Toxic Substances

A lot of us associate chemotherapy with hair loss, and while that isn’t always the case, it can cause women to lose their hair prematurely. “Chemotherapy, certain other drugs and radiation treatments can prompt hair loss, mainly in the growth phase. Hair loss can strike suddenly, anywhere in the body. It is typically temporary (unless the follicles are damaged),” writes Cleveland Clinic.

17. Childbirth

We’ve talked about how emotional stress and anxiety can cause hair loss and even some physical trauma like surgery or weight loss, but did you know that a physical trauma like childbirth can also cause hair loss in women? SELF magazine says that pregnancy can sometimes cause women’s hair to grow a lot faster because they are experiencing a surge in hormones, but once they give birth and their estrogen levels return back to normal, their hair will go back to normal and might start to shed all that extra hair. Some women will experience mild shedding while others will notice it a lot more, it varies on a person-by-person basis.

18. Too Much Vitamin A

We’ve talked a lot of about lack of vitamins or nutrients, but Health.com explains that someone who’s getting too much vitamin A can also experience hair loss. The American Academy of Dermatology says that too much vitamin A, especially in the form of supplements or medications can trigger hair loss.

Health.com writes, “the daily value for vitamin A is 5,000 international units (IU) per day for adults and kids over age 4; supplements can contain 2,500 to 10,000 IU.” You should consult with a doctor before taking new supplements. If this is the cause of your hair loss, it is reversible. Once the vitamin A is stopped, your hair should grow again normally.

19. Certain Medications

The medications we take for any type of health condition or illness can have all kinds of side effects, some more than others. If you notice that you’re beginning to lose more hair than normal after you’ve just started a new medication, it could be the culprit. “Medications can cause chronic shedding,” says Bethanee Schlosser, MD, assistant professor of dermatology and director of the Women’s Skin Health Program for Northwestern Medicine to SELF.

SELF goes on to explain that the most common medication known for causing hair loss are blood pressure medications, antidepressants and HIV medications. Discuss these changes with your doctor in order to find the right fit for you.

20. Alopecia

Even though this one is last on our list, it’s actually the most common cause of hair loss in women. There are a variety of different types of alopecia (which means hair loss), says Healthline, but the most common for female-pattern baldness or hair loss is androgenetic alopecia.

The cause of this condition is genetics or family history, so most women will already know if they are prone to hair loss because it will have been passed down from someone else in their family. “It’s the leading cause of hair loss in women and generally begins between the ages of 12 to 40 years old,” writes the source. “While men tend to notice balding as a receding hairline and specific bald spots, women’s hair loss appears more as overall thinning.”

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