Women and Hair Loss: The Causes
Today more women than ever are experiencing hair loss -- and the causes may be quite different that what causes balding in men.
Female, Male Balding Not the Same Pattern
"We don't even like to use the term 'androgenic alopecia' in women anymore
-- instead we call it female pattern hair loss -- a broader term that
encompasses many possible causes, some of which are likely to be directly
linked to an excess of testosterone, and some of which are not," Daly tells
Indeed, he says that although the science of female balding is still largely
misunderstood, there is evidence that many other types of enzymes, as well as
hormone receptors and blockers, may be at work in women.
One clue that there is a true difference between male and female balding is
the pattern in which the hair loss occurs.
"Female pattern balding goes around the whole top of the head -- it's
diffuse -- whereas men lose it on the temple, the crown, the bald spot in the
back," says Daly. Not coincidentally, the hormone and enzyme receptor sites are
also different in varying areas of the scalp -- another reason doctors now
believe the loss patterns are caused by different precipitating factors.
Another important difference: While balding in men is almost always the
result a genetic predisposition coupled with age, in women, it can happen at
any time. In addition, underlying medical conditions can also be the cause of
hair loss -- even when true androgenic alopecia is the diagnosis.
Medical Causes Common
"Often these women are also suffering with polycystic ovary syndrome, [a common hormonal problem
in women], and sometimes their hair loss is the only obvious sign," says
Ricardo Azziz, MD, director of the Center for Androgen-Related Disorders at the
Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
In addition, Daly reports that certain types of autoimmune disorders result
in a slightly different and often less dramatic hair loss problem known as
alopecia areata -- an inflammatory condition that causes hair to come out in
clumps or patches.
Still others can develop a temporary hair shedding problem known as telogen
effluvium -- a change in the natural hair growth system that often follows
childbirth, crash dieting, surgery, or a traumatic emotional event.
Azizz adds that thyroid disorders, anemia, even chronic illness or the use
of certain medications can also cause hair loss in women that is often
For these reasons, specialists say it's vital for all women to get at the
"root" of their hair loss before seeking treatment.
"The No. 1 rule of treating hair loss in women is getting the correct
diagnosis -- if there is an underlying physical problem it has to be corrected
first," says Reed. Often, he says, that can preclude the need for additional
hair loss treatment. As such, he advises women to see a doctor who specializes
in female pattern balding and make certain to be checked for possible
underlying medical conditions via blood tests, or if need be, a scalp
"Often the diagnosis is made by excluding what problem isn't there -- but
it's still essential to do the complete workup," says Daly.