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Hair loss

Overview

Hair loss (alopecia) can affect just your scalp or your entire body, and it can be temporary or permanent. It can be the result of heredity, hormonal changes, medical conditions or a normal part of aging. Anyone can lose hair on their head, but it's more common in men.

Baldness typically refers to excessive hair loss from your scalp. Hereditary hair loss with age is the most common cause of baldness. Some people prefer to let their hair loss run its course untreated and unhidden. Others may cover it up with hairstyles, makeup, hats or scarves. And still others choose one of the treatments available to prevent further hair loss or restore growth.

Before pursuing hair loss treatment, talk with your doctor about the cause of your hair loss and treatment options.

Symptoms

Hair loss can appear in many different ways, depending on what's causing it. It can come on suddenly or gradually and affect just your scalp or your whole body.

Signs and symptoms of hair loss may include:

  • Gradual thinning on top of head. This is the most common type of hair loss, affecting people as they age. In men, hair often begins to recede at the hairline on the forehead. Women typically have a broadening of the part in their hair. An increasingly common hair loss pattern in older women is a receding hairline (frontal fibrosing alopecia).
  • Circular or patchy bald spots. Some people lose hair in circular or patchy bald spots on the scalp, beard or eyebrows. Your skin may become itchy or painful before the hair falls out.
  • Sudden loosening of hair. A physical or emotional shock can cause hair to loosen. Handfuls of hair may come out when combing or washing your hair or even after gentle tugging. This type of hair loss usually causes overall hair thinning but is temporary.
  • Full-body hair loss. Some conditions and medical treatments, such as chemotherapy for cancer, can result in the loss of hair all over your body. The hair usually grows back.
  • Patches of scaling that spread over the scalp. This is a sign of ringworm. It may be accompanied by broken hair, redness, swelling and, at times, oozing.

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if you are distressed by persistent hair loss in you or your child and want to pursue treatment. For women who are experiencing a receding hairline (frontal fibrosing alopecia), talk with your doctor about early treatment to avoid significant permanent baldness.

Also talk to your doctor if you notice sudden or patchy hair loss or more than usual hair loss when combing or washing your or your child's hair. Sudden hair loss can signal an underlying medical condition that requires treatment.

In men, hair often begins to recede from the forehead.

Male-pattern baldness typically appears first at the hairline or top of the head. It can progress to partial or complete baldness.

Women tend to lose hair along the part.

Female-pattern baldness typically starts with scalp hairs becoming progressively less dense. Many women first experience hair thinning and hair loss where they part their hair and on the top-central portion of the head.

Repeated stress on the hair can cause a type of hair loss called traction alopecia.

Hair loss can occur if you wear pigtails, braids or cornrows, or use tight hair rollers. This is called traction alopecia.