Although hair loss is typically associated with men, women may also suffer from hair thinning and even baldness. The most common form of women’s hair loss is known as androgenetic alopecia, commonly referred to as female pattern baldness. In women, hair loss typically consists of hair thinning around the top and sides of the scalp. According to the American Hair Loss Council (AHLC), female pattern baldness affects a third of the women who are susceptible to this condition, and commonly begins post-menopause, although it can also occur as early as puberty.
What Is It?
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), hair grows at a rate of half an inch per month. After growing from anywhere between 2 to 6 years, a hair will fall out, and a new one will soon grow in its place. However, women experiencing female pattern baldness have certain areas of their head where hair falls out and never grows back again. At the moment, there is no definitive answer as to why women experience female pattern baldness.
Although they may share some similarities, female pattern baldness is different from male pattern baldness. In female pattern baldness, a woman’s hair will begin to thin around the sides and top of the head, and will rarely progress to the point of baldness. Women also tend to keep their front hairline, while men experiencing a receding hairline.
Symptoms of female pattern baldness are:
- Hair begins to slowly thin around the top of the head, particularly where the hair is usually parted.
- Hair thinning and hair loss may increase, although becoming nearly bald, like in male pattern baldness, is highly unlikely. In other words, women experiencing hair loss due to female pattern baldness will have significantly more hair than men who experience male pattern baldness.
- The front of the hairline will remain intact.
- The hair will gradually become thinner around the sides and top of the head.
Further research is necessary to fully understand why new hair does not replace fallen hair in female pattern baldness. Many attribute the condition to the following causes:
- Hair thinning as a person becomes older.
- A change in levels of androgens, a male hormone, which can be attributed to hormonal changes caused by menopause. Women may begin to lose hair, while also developing facial hair issues.
- Women with family histories of male or female pattern baldness are likely to suffer from the condition.
Other Causes Of Women’s Hair Loss
While women’s hair loss is commonly associated with female pattern baldness, there are other possible causes that should to be taken into account:
- Hormonal issues, which include producing too much testosterone, or issues with thyroid hormonal production.
- Skin diseases that can permanently damage hair follicles.
- A diet that is deficient in iron and certain vitamins.
- Alopecia areata, which is a hair loss condition experienced by men and women where hair loss can occur in patches and can affect other areas of the body where hair grows. In some cases, hair loss can occur throughout the entire body, or the entire head, including the facial area.
- Hair loss might occur due to the body experiencing a traumatic change or condition, like child birth, malnutrition, major surgery, high amounts of stress or some other medical condition or disease. This is known as telogen effluvium.
- Medical treatments, especially chemotherapy, can cause women’s hair loss.
Tests And Diagnosis
A physician will examine a woman experiencing hair loss to rule out other possible causes aside from female pattern baldness. He or she may ask questions about medical history, and will examine the manner of hair loss, including its appearance and patterns. The physician will also check for signs of overproduction of androgen. Signs of too much androgen include:
- Abnormal hair growth in other areas of the body like the face, around the belly button and/or pubic area.
- Changes in menstrual periods.
- An enlargement of the clitoris.
- Development of new acne around the body.
Treatment And Prevention
Currently, there is no known means of prevention for female pattern baldness. Women’s hair loss caused by female pattern baldness can become permanent if left untreated. In some cases, a woman may feel comfortable with her hair loss and may wish to circumvent treatment.
According to the NIH, the only drug or medication that is approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for female pattern baldness is minoxidil, which is used on the scalp. Women who do not respond to minoxidil, may also be given oral spironolactone.
Another form of treatment is hair transplants. This procedure takes hair from other areas of the scalp that are much thicker and places them in areas that are bald. Although the hair will never appear as full or as thick as it once was, it can cover bald patches and give a woman a more natural appearance. However, there are risks for this procedure, including scarring and infection. Another downside of this procedure is its high cost.