Female Pattern Baldness: Genetic or Illness?
What You Can Do About It!
Hair loss creates an emotional roller coaster for millions of men and women around the world each year. However, for women, the experience can be far more harrowing as common social constructs have made it virtually impossible for them not to feel outcast or unattractive without a full head of locks.
Fatigue is a common symptom of a hormonal imbalance.
Female pattern baldness profoundly affects millions of women all ages each year with physical and emotional consequences.
If you’re a woman with hair loss, or you know someone afflicted with such issues, learn the important to know possible causes and, more importantly, understand that today there truly are many potential available solutions.
Female pattern baldness often forces women to feel ashamed and secretive about their predicament, and there are likely millions of female hair loss sufferers who allow their situation to go undiagnosed, remedying the problem instead with readily available hair extensions, wigs and other fashion accessories.
Hiding or ignoring the condition can be extremely problematic, not to mention dangerous, as female pattern baldness can, in some cases, be the sign of many serious medical issues that need to be addressed, whether they be emotional or physical.
To understand the complicated and various causes for female pattern baldness, you first need to understand what it is and who it affects.
What Is Female Pattern Baldness?
Female Pattern Baldness is a form of hair loss that is specific to women.
The common clinical term for noticeable hair loss in general is alopecia, which affects approximately one-third of women, two-thirds of postmenopausal women and nearly half of men over the age of 50.
More often than not, general society assumes that baldness affects mostly men, but the alarming number of women who experience unwanted hair loss is far greater than you might expect. This assumption makes it far more difficult for women to seek proper treatments and to assess their own hair loss properly, as they often will feel shame and exclusion about their condition, something that the professional community hopes to greatly change over the next few years with increased awareness and proper assessment and treatment programs.
Female pattern baldness, if not dealt with properly, can greatly affect a female’s well-being and quality of life, making it essential for every woman to know and understand the facts behind the surprisingly common condition.
|Example: Female Pattern Baldness
It is important to note that that there are many different types of alopecia, some that are caused by external factors, and some that are caused by genetic or internal factors – especially in the case of women. For most men, hair loss is not an indication of illness, but for women, it can be, making it extremely important for you to seek professional medical advice should you experience unusual hair loss.
The most common type of alopecia in both men and women is androgenetic alopecia. Women with androgenetic alopecia generally experience a gradual thinning at the part line and eventually hair loss or thinning at the crown of the head. The causes behind this type of alopecia are varied, but are described by the The Harvard Womens’ Health Watch as:
“… involv[ing] the action of the hormones called androgens, which are essential for normal male sexual development and have other important functions in both sexes, including sex drive and regulation of hair growth.
The condition may be inherited and involve several different genes. It can also result from an underlying endocrine condition, such as overproduction of androgen or an androgen-secreting tumor on the ovary, pituitary, or adrenal gland. In either case, the alopecia is likely related to increased androgen activity.
But unlike androgenetic alopecia in men, in women the precise role of androgens is harder to determine. On the chance that an androgen-secreting tumor is involved, it’s important to measure androgen levels in women with clear female pattern hair loss.”
In other words, this type of alopecia can result from:
- Genetic factors
- Endocrine conditions
- Androgen-secreting tumors
- Unusual androgen activity or production
What Can You Expect if You’re Suffering From Androgenetic Alopecia?
Both women and men will experience a thinning of the hair, and for some eventual baldness. Scientifically speaking:
“… hair loss occurs because of a genetically determined shortening of anagen, a hair’s growing phase, and a lengthening of the time between the shedding of a hair and the start of a new anagen phase…That means it takes longer for hair to start growing back after it is shed in the course of the normal growth cycle. The hair follicle itself also changes, shrinking and producing a shorter, thinner hair shaft — a process called “follicular miniaturization.”
As a result, thicker, pigmented, longer-lived “terminal” hairs are replaced by shorter, thinner, non-pigmented hairs called “vellus.”
Androgenetic Alopecia Affects Women and Men Differently …
Your body will reveal many subtle clues about your health as long as you’re watching (and listening) for them. Fortunately women seem to instinctively know to be more focused on such concerns then men… often for good reason!
Unlike androgenetic alopecia in men, women’s hairlines rarely recede and complete baldness does not usually occur. Nevertheless, this gradual thinning can be extremely noticeable and cause great emotional and physical insecurity. It is important for those experiencing these effects to reach out for help, as there are many forms of therapy widely available that can help both the physical and emotional aspects of the experience.
In addition, it is important for women to address the issue because there could be other medical problems involved, including:
- Hormonal or chemical imbalances in your body
- Anorexia or other eating disorders
- Anemia or low iron levels
- Low Ferritin or other vitamin or mineral deficiencies
- Thyroid Disease
- Polycystic Ovarian Disease
While androgenetic alopecia is a common cause of hair loss in women, there are other types of alopecia that can be at the root of the problem too, among them scarring alopecia, traction alopecia and frontal fibrosing alopecia.
What Is Scarring Alopecia?
Scarring alopecia, also known as cicatricial alopecia, is an assortment of hair loss disorders that affects nearly 3% of hair loss suffers. It is common in both men and women but can be hard to assess, as there are many known causes. In general, with scarring alopecia there is a destruction of hair follicles either through physical damage or internal factors, but the end result is that the hair follicles are permanently damaged or destroyed and replaced by scar tissue.
Most forms of scarring alopecia first begin as small patches of hair loss that can expand with time. Sometimes the hair loss is gradual, without apparent symptoms, and other times the hair loss is associated with severe itching, burning and pain that can spread quickly.
Scarring alopecias are classified into two categories:
- In the first, a destructive inflammatory process progressively affects an area of hair growth on your head and scars your follicles.
- In the second, the hair follicles are destroyed through external means, either by injury, burns, radiation, infections or tumors.
Other times, the alopecia can be triggered by excessive scratching, hair pulling or touching as the result of mental or nervous issues. In all cases however, the upper part of the hair follicle (where the stem cells and sebaceous gland) are destroyed or damaged resulting in permanent hair loss.
Scarring Alopecia is very difficult to diagnose, and requires acute attention to detail by both the medical professional and patient. To properly diagnose it, a biopsy will have to be performed by a dermatologist before any treatments, such as a hair transplant. With proper diagnosis and early intervention however, there is a good chance that spreading can be prevented or helped.
If You Wear Hair Extensions or Tight Ponytails, You Could Have Traction Alopecia
Traction alopecia is hair loss that is caused by a prolonged physical pulling force on the scalp. Common causes for this type of hair loss include:
- Tight ponytails, braids, buns or other force inducing hairdos
- Weaves or hair extensions
- Tight head gear e.g.: hats or helmets
Applicable to both men and women, this type of hair loss can usually be remedied by the cessation of the hair pulling force, however, if your scalp has become damaged, then hair growth may be more difficult to come by. Many sufferers of traction alopecia are unaware of their own destructive habits on their hair, and may not notice until there is significant damage to the area.
Hair Loss Near Your Forehead May be Frontal Fibrosing Alopecia
Frontal fibrosing alopecia, or FFA is a rare hair loss condition that is caused by inflammation triggered by the body’s immune system. Those suffering from frontal fibrosing alopecia may experience hair loss near their forehead and even on their eyebrows or underarms.
The hair follicles in those experiencing frontal fibrosing alopecia may be destroyed by the inflammation even when the skin in the affected area may look normal. The condition is still undergoing much research, as the causes are still unknown. It is reported in mostly post-menopausal women, but can affect men and pre-menopausal women in rare cases. Some sufferers will experience no noticeable skin irritation, while others will notice mild scarring, redness around hair follicles, inflammation or paleness in the affected area.
It is extremely important for women to seek medical help if they encounter hair loss under these conditions because frontal fibrosing alopecia has been linked to changes in your body’s hormones or autoimmune responses. If you address the issue earlier you may be able to stop the process before it gets worse.
Are There Other Causes for Hair Loss in Women?
Yes. Sometimes there are times when your hair’s growth cycle will become abnormal or inactive and this can cause temporary hair loss. These types of hair loss conditions are called effluvium conditions.
Many if Not Most Causes of Hair Loss Have Viable Treatment Options
Above are Laser Treatment results of 56 year young woman, after only 6 months. This treatment option is often very effective and affordable for many patients with 100% no recovery time.
“Some hair loss conditions go by the name “effluvium,” which means an outflow. Effluviums characteristically affect different phases of the hair growth cycle. Hair follicles on the scalp do not continuously produce hair. They cycle through a growth stage that can last two or more years, then regress to a resting stage for up to two months before starting to grow a new hair fiber again.
At any time on a healthy human scalp, about 80% to 90% of the hair follicles are growing hair. These active follicles are in what is called the anagen phase. That leaves up to 10% to 20% percent of scalp hair follicles in a resting state called telogen, when they don’t produce any hair fiber.”
A common form of effluvium hair loss is telogen effluvium. Here the number of follicles that produce hair will drop dramatically and there will be a large increase in telogen (dormant) stage hair follicles. People suffering from telogen effluvium will lose or shed a significant number of these telogen stage hairs, and can recognize them by the small bulbs of keratin at the root ends.
Stress and Other Reasons Why Telogen Effluvium Develops
It is important to note that the causes for telogen effluvium are hard to recognize, making it important for both you and your medical professional to pay close attention to your body, habits and lifestyle.
In general, telogen effluvium can happen when:
- An environmental factor shocks the follicles into their dormant state and the sufferer will experience hair loss either immediately or anywhere from 1-2 months after the environmental stimulus.
- The hair follicles proceed with their normal cycles, but some that enter the telogen phase get stuck in this part of the cycle for a longer than normal amount of time — this type of telogen effluvium generally develops slowly and lasts longer.
- The hair follicles experience shortened growth cycles resulting in thin scalp hair and frequent shedding of short, thin hair fibers.
People experiencing these types of telogen effluvium hair loss will then need to assess all areas of their lives as there are many factors which can trigger the hair loss. Some common causes include:
- Poor diet
- Physical trauma
- Chronic illnesses
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
A detailed assessment by your medical professional will guide you toward the proper causes and remedies for the condition. With most telogen effluvium cases your hair can and will grow back with proper treatment, including lifestyle changes, as the follicles are not dead — they simply need to “wake-up.”
Do You Have a Loved One Who is Experiencing Female Hair Loss?
As is the case with all medical issues, you should seek the advice of a medical professional. Your doctor will be able to refer you to the proper specialist for your problem. It is also important to make sure you are aware of your lifestyle and any changes that may have occurred during the time of the hair loss. Little details are integral to many of these cases. In addition, proper testing is integral to an accurate diagnosis.
Types of Testing for Female Pattern Baldness
Many doctors use the Ludwig Classification to determine female pattern hair loss. There are 3 types in this classification:
- “Type I is minimal thinning that can be camouflaged with hair styling techniques.
- Type II is characterized by decreased volume and noticeable widening of the mid-line part.
- Type III describes diffuse thinning, with a see-through appearance on the top of the scalp.”
Once your doctor has determined which type of hair loss you are experiencing he or she may then suggest any number of treatments ranging from lifestyle changes to medical procedures.
For instance, you may need to:
- Work less or take a stress leave
- Change your diet
- Stop a particular medication
- Change your exercise routine
- Stop smoking
- Change your hairstyle or hair grooming routines
Medical Procedures for Hair Loss: What You Should Know
Some of the more popular hair treatments that your medical professional may suggest for you are:
- Minoxidil – a medication that can increase hair growth in some men and women.
- Anti-androgens – receptor-blocking drugs such as spironolactone (Aldactone) and finasteride (Propecia)
- Iron supplements – for those with iron deficiencies.
5 Newer Non-Drug Options for Female Hair Loss
There are many new and emerging therapies that have been proven to be safer and more effective than their former counterparts. Using new technology, surgical and non-surgical procedures, many women suffering from hair loss have seen remarkable, lasting results.
Ask If You’re a Good Candidate for Laser Light Therapy. Odds are you are!
1. Laser Light Therapy and Low Level Light Therapy
Light therapies are heralded for being safer than many medications. In most treatments your scalp will subjected to photo, laser or low light for a specified amount of time. The light has been proven in several cases to increase hair density and growth in the treated regions.
For example, in a study published in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology:
“Twenty eight ethnic South Korean patients with varying degrees of FPHL (Female Pattern Hair Loss) …received ten treatments with a 1550 nm fractional Er:Glass Laser …at 2-weeks intervals … After 5 months of laser treatment, hair density showed a marked increase … and hair thickness also increased … Global photographs showed improvement in 24 (87.5%) of the 27 patients.”
2. Follicular Unit Extraction (FUE)
Hair transplants and grafts have seen a great leap forward in recent years, none more successful than the follicular unit extraction technique. In the early 1990s, many professionals stopped using conventional hair “plugs” because they did not echo the natural hair groupings, and often looked unnatural. With follicular unit extraction, natural groupings from another area of your scalp (usually the back of your head) are transplanted to the appropriate area, resulting in a natural look that consists completely of your own natural hair. In addition, in most cases there is no visible scarring or “patching” in the donor area, especially if the procedure is performed by a seasoned and recommended professional.
3. ARTAS® Robotic System
Technological advancements have allowed for drastic improvements in the follicular unit extraction field, especially in the form of robotics. Specifically, scientists have developed the ARTAS® Robotic System, which allows for unprecedented surgical accuracy in the follicular unit extraction surgery aided by the experience, guidance and supervision of an experienced professional.
Patients who undergo the follicular unit extraction technique find a host of benefits, including:
- Minimally invasive, outpatient procedure
- Quick recovery
- Permanent hair restoration results
- No linear scar (a common occurrence with “hair plug” surgery)
PRP Treatment Results
4. PRP (Platelet Rich Plasma) Therapy
This new and much talked about form of therapy has been advocated by many medical professionals around the world, including those in non-hair therapy fields. The process essentially consists of doctors taking a small sample of your blood and spinning it in a centrifuge to separate the platelet-rich plasma. This blood is then later injected at the site of the transplant surgery. The platelet density of the plasma has been proven to aid in tissue recovery, spur new hair growth and improve hair density.
In their study “PRP for Androgenic Alopecia,” Drs. Gilbert Amgar and Pierre Bouhanna, MD, saw radical improvements in hair growth with the use of platelet rich plasma therapy, including “an increase of 22.4% in both new hair and denser hair at 3 months after PRP treatment.” In addition, at the 9-month period they saw “a 57% increase in new hair and 58% increase in density …”
5. Stem Cell Therapy
Research into stem cell therapy has shown some exciting and promising results in all fields of medicine. With scientific advancements the medical communities have been able to recreate tissue and organs for intended use of potentially life-saving or altering medical procedures, in addition to follicle re-growth and scalp re-growth for hair loss related procedures.
One recent study found, for instance, that cells taken from just a few hundred donor hairs could be grown and multiplied in a lab and then transplanted back into the thinning or bald areas of your scalp, offering hope, in particular, for those with female-pattern hair loss, scarring alopecia or hair loss due to burns.
Women of All Ages, There’s HELP if You Have Hair Loss
The most important fact to remember about female pattern baldness is that you needn’t suffer alone or in silence. Getting to the root of your hair loss is important, as is seeking medical treatment that can, in many cases, give you back a natural-looking, full head of hair.
There are many reasons for hair loss in women. Often they can be related to:
- Lifestyle habits
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
- Autoimmune diseases
- Skin diseases or abnormalities
- Illnesses such as cancer
- Stress, physical trauma or injury
- Menopause or pregnancy
- Various forms of alopecia
- Androgen imbalances
Some forms of hair loss can be related to medical issues, while others can be related to lifestyle. It is important for women to know the facts about female hair loss so that they can correctly determine why they are experiencing this surprisingly common condition, and to also seek out the best treatment options for them.
Seeking professional medical advice is always the most important step, and then from there, answers, remedies and solutions can be found.
Lee GY, Lee SJ Kim WS. The effect of a 1550 nm fractional erbium-glass laser in female pattern hair loss; J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol; 25(12):1450-4.
A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia; Female pattern baldness; Alopecia in women; Baldness – female; Hair loss in women; Androgenetic alopecia in women.
Storrs, Carina; Is Platelet-Rich Plasma an Effective Healing Therapy?; Scientific American;
“The ARTAS Robotic Procedure”; www.artashair.com.