Signs of Hair Loss in Women - Symptoms & Causes

Been a few days since your last shampoo?  And then when you’ve used that dry shampoo a day or so too long and finally had a chance to wash that mane, notice a glob of hair in the drain?  Don’t fret!  It’s perfectly normal to see 50 to 100 hairs shed per day that is most noticeable when we wash or brush our hair.  You may have collected that much that hasn’t naturally shed until you shampooed.  

But when is too much shedding cause for concern?  What are the signs that you have hair loss and it’s time to make a change?

Hair loss in women shows signs very gradually and usually starts with increased shedding before any visible thinning is noticed.  Female pattern hair loss typically appears with gradual thinning on the crown with a widened parting. The hair line is not usually affected unlike in men, at least in the beginning stages.

Androgenic Alopecia
Gradual hair loss in the form of thinning hair is called “genetic androgenic alopecia” which, as the same suggests, is genetic.  This means that your hair follicles are more sensitive to DHT, a male hormone found in both men and women.  The hair strand thins and can fall out when DHT shrinks these sensitive follicles.  In women, this is common.  And shows with thinning of hair all over the head, as opposed to along the hair line which is common in men.  Androgenetic alopecia in women rarely leads to total baldness.

Telogen Effluvium
Just give birth?  Hair loss post pregnancy is known as “telogen effluvium” which is a fancy term for the excessive shedding of hair that occurs around the third or fourth month after giving birth.  An elevated estrogen level prolongs the growing stage during pregnancy.  Many women have luxurious, thick hair while pregnant because there are fewer hairs in the resting stage and fewer falling out each day.  After giving birth, estrogen levels plummet and a lot more hair follicles enter the resting stage, thus more hair falling out.  It’s temporary and ends 3-4 months after first signs.  

In general, hormonal fluctuations of any kind can cause telogen effluvium, which is the second most common cause of hair loss, next to genetic androgenic alopecia.  Visibly, hair thinning is seen in certain section of the head, as opposed to a general, overall thinning found with androgenic alopecia.

Alopecia Areata
Patchy hair loss or “alopecia areata” is a type of nonscarring hair loss and occurs when the body's immune system attacks hair follicles — causing sudden hair loss that leaves smooth, roundish bald patches on the scalp.

Infections, such as ringworm, can also invade the hair and skin of your scalp, leading to scaly patches and hair loss. Once infections are treated, hair generally grows back.

Scarring Alopecia
Diseases that cause “scarring alopecia” may result in permanent loss at the scarred areas. These conditions include lichen planus, some types of lupus and sarcoidosis and are diagnosed in up to 3% of hair loss patients.  Signs of scarring alopecia first occur as small patches of hair loss that may expand with time. In some cases, the hair loss is gradual, without noticeable symptoms, and may go unnoticed for a long time. In other instances, the hair loss is associated with severe itching, burning, and pain, and is rapidly progressive.  The scarring alopecia patches usually look a little different from alopecia areata in that the edges of the bald patches look more "ragged." The destruction of the hair follicle occurs below the skin surface so there may not be much to actually see on the scalp skin surface other than patchy hair loss. Affected areas may be smooth and clean, or may have redness, scaling, increased or decreased pigmentation, or may have raised blisters with fluids or pus coming from the affected area.

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Traction Alopecia
Excessive hairstyling or hairstyles that pull your hair tight, such as pigtails or cornrows, can cause “traction alopecia” and thinning of the hairline. Hot oil hair treatments and permanents can cause inflammation of hair follicles that leads to hair loss. If scarring occurs, hair loss could be permanent.

Hair extensions, whether weaved in or clipped in, can pull the hair causing the same traction alopecia as tight pony tails.  Many salons recommend washing and treating hair and scalp with hair thinning products while wearing the extensions to help keep natural hair strong.

Trichorrhexis Nodosa
“Trichorrhexis nodosa” is a condition where damaged, weak points in the hair shaft cause hair to break off easily. The cause? Thermal damage to the hair from heat styling tools can cause this form of hair loss located not from the root but from somewhere along the shaft.  Visibly, you’ll see breakage along the hair strands, located anywhere from the root to the ends.

Regardless of any and all of the above, if you are suddenly noticing thinning of your hair or hair loss, visit your physician as soon as possible to assess your medical condition.