Another Hairy Issue: Dealing with Hair Loss

November 13, 2011

The scalp hair lives between two and five years. However some women aren't so lucky. It is scary and frightening to be able to look into the mirror and see your scalp when you started out with a nice thick head of hair.

The scalp hair lives between two and five years. However some women aren't so lucky. It is scary and frightening to be able to look into the mirror and see your scalp when you started out with a nice thick head of hair. Many women wonder why this is happening and seek medical help. Others live with it and try to come up with ways to hide the thinning hair, known medically as alopecia. This article looks at what alopecia is, how it is diagnosed and The treatment options available to patients. 

Alopecia: What is it? 

Alopecia is the medical term for hair loss. PCOS women can suffer from several different kinds of alopecia. The main form of alopecia, androgenic alopecia, occurs in many women with PCOS and is due to an excess of androgen ("male") hormones. However, thyroid problems, low estrogen levels, anemia, pregnancy, and many other medical problems can contribute to hair loss. Hair loss can be worsened by traction alopecia. Traction alopecia occurs when the hair is pulled out by any means such as ponytails, excessive hair styling, brushing and even nervous pulling of the hair (Thatcher, 2000, 111). 

Alopecia in women exhibits itself differently than in men. It is characterized by thinning of hairs on the top of the head. Unlike male pattern baldness, there is no bitemporal and frontal recession.

When is it Alopecia?

The average human loses about 75 hairs a day for the 100,000 to 150,000 hairs he or she may have. A PCOS patient is the first to notice that her hair is getting thinner. She may notice more hair on her hair brush or that the drain in her sink or bathtub has a lot of hair in it. By the time that a causal observer can start seeing the scalp, a hair loss of as much as 50% may have already occurred.

Like hirsuitism, many physicians do not notice the problem because women become adept at hiding the thinness of the hair. However, if you have noticed thinning of the hair, contact your doctor so you can receive medical treatment or get a referral to a dermatologist for diagnosis and treatment.

Medical Treatments

Minoxidil is a medicine used to treat high blood pressure which when applied to the skin causes hair growth in some individuals. One out of ten people who use minoxidil will grow hair. Five out of ten patients will see a reduction in the the rate of hair loss. The other four out of ten will see no results and need to discontinue the use of minoxidil. Side effects of minoxidil can include dryness and irritation of the scalp. 

There is some suggestion that finasteride can help with androgenic alopecia. Finasteride decreases the the serum and scalp male hormone levels and inhibits the reduction in size of the affected follicles and helps to restore miniaturized hair follicles to regrow visible hair. Finasteride should not be taken or handled by women who are pregnant or are trying to get pregnant since they can be harmful to the fetus.

Spironolactone can also reduce hair loss because it suppresses the amount of male hormone that is circulating in the body. Like finasteride, it can can be harmful to a developing fetus so it must be stopped if you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant.

Other Ways to Hide Thinning Hair

A number of ways exist to help make your hair appear fuller and thicker besides using medical treatments. 

Phillip Kingsley, MIT,MRIPHH, one of the speakers at the International PCOSupport conference in San Diego recommended that women with PCOS wash their hair daily. The accumulation of dirt and oil on the hair weighs hair down and makes it look limp instead of full and healthy. 

There are a number of shampoo and styling products on the market that also help the hair. The Nioxin Line contains minoxidil as an ingredient to help encourage hair growth. The Toni & Guy Salons have a hair care product line called TIGI. Their shampoo for fine hair and thickening cream products roughen the cuticle of the hair shaft and make the hair appear thicker and fuller.

Hair structure can also be altered through the use of perms and coloring. These processes make the hair cuticle rough and make the hair appear fuller. However, overuse of perms and coloring can damage hair and make it prone to breakage.

References:

References

Thatcher, Samuel S. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: The Hidden Epidemic. Perspective Press. 2000. 111-12.