Tying up the loose ends of hair loss

.. Many of them even claim – with little or no basis in medical fact – that baldness is a sign of virility.

On the other hand, when hair loss or alopecia occurs in women it is far more distressing. Female-pattern baldness can lead to anxiety and serious depression.

The causes are little understood and can be due to many factors, but hormones, ageing and genetics are the most common reasons given. In many cases, especially when the woman has had some major shock to the system such as extreme stress, fever, sudden weight loss or a surgical procedure, the hair loss is usually temporary.

In some cases, albeit uncommon, it can also be a sign of serious underlying health issues. Conditions such as anaemia and thyroid disease are connected to hair loss in women.  It can also be caused by a connective tissue disease such as lupus and there is a link with ovarian tumours.  

Some obstetric and gynaecological conditions are also known to cause alopecia, and new moms often go through a phase of losing some hair soon after giving birth. Menopausal women often report hair on their heads getting thinner, although facial hair becomes coarser. 

Hair loss can also be caused by medication such as anti-coagulants or blood thinners, blood pressure medication and oral contraceptives. Chemotherapy drugs, beta blockers, medication for seizures, gout and  thyroid problems and mood-altering drugs have also been known to be culprits.
A host of nutritional disorders also seem to trigger hair loss in females: crash diets, bulimia, anorexia, protein or calorie deficiencies, essential fatty acids or zinc deficiencies and a deficiency of iron, among others. 

Sadly, for many women there is no remedy or cure for baldness. But there are treatments in abundance to support a multibillion-dollar industry worldwide, so circumspection needs to be applied before you shell out a fortune for an exotic shampoo or lotion. 

A drug such as Minoxidil, also known as Regaine, which is applied to the scalp as a lotion, is known to help regenerate hair growth in one out of four to five women, but it has proved to be more effective in stemming further hair loss. Finasteride, also known as Propecia, is another drug known to be effective in preventing hair loss.

Having a hair transplant can be an effective option, but it requires deep pockets. The treatment works by extracting small grafts of naturally occurring clumps of hair and surgically implanting them into the balding areas on the head in close proximity to each other. Performed by a good plastic surgeon, it can look natural and effective, but it is time-consuming and expensive, costing an average of tens of thousands of rand.

Another form of treatment being heavily marketed on the internet is low-level laser therapy. This kind of treatment claims to stimulate hair growth through what is termed the “photo-bio-stimulation” of hair follicles.

Because hair loss can be so distressing to most women means there is a ready market for opportunists who make bold claims about miracle cures on glossy websites. They also charge exorbitant fees for treatments that may have little or no benefits whatsoever.

The sad, understandable side effect of female pattern baldness is a loss of self-esteem, which is understandable considering the social stigma that comes with it.
If you are experiencing hair loss, and especially if it is causing you any form of anxiety, do not be taken in by claims for wonder treatments. The best solution, as always, is to speak to your medical practitioner.

Hair loss will be the topic of Bonitas House Call on May 19 at 9am on SABC2

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