Partial or complete loss of hair is called alopecia.
Hair loss usually develops gradually and may be patchy or all over (diffuse). You lose roughly 100 hairs from your head every day. The average scalp contains about 100,000 hairs.
Both men and women tend to lose hair thickness and amount as they age. Baldness is not usually caused by a disease. It is related to aging, heredity, and changes in the hormome, testosterone. Inherited or "pattern baldness" affects many more men than women. About one-half of men begin to bald by the time they are 30 years old, and most are either bald or have a balding pattern by age 60.
A sudden physical or emotional stress may cause one-half to three-quarters of the hair throughout your scalp to shed (called Telogen effluvium). You will notice hair coming out in handfuls while you shampoo, comb, or run your hands through your hair. You may not notice this for weeks to months after the episode of stress. The hair shedding will decrease over 6 - 8 months.
Cause of this type of hair loss are:
Some women ages 30 - 60 may notice a thinning of the hair that affects the entire scalp. The hair loss may be heavier at first, and then gradually slow or stop. There is no known cause for this type of hair loss.
Other possible causes of hair loss, especially if it is in an unusual pattern, include:
Hair loss from menopause or childbirth often returns to normal 6 months to 2 years later.
For hair loss due to illness (such as fever), radiation therapy, medication use, or other causes, no treatment is necessary. The hair will usually grow back when the illness has ended or the therapy is finished. You may want to wear a wig, hat, or other covering until the hair grows back.
Hair weaves, hair pieces, or changes of hair style may disguise hair loss. This is generally the least expensive and safest approach to hair loss. Hair pieces should not be sutured to the scalp because of the risk of scars and infection.
Call your doctor if:
A careful medical history and examination of the hair and scalp are usually enough to diagnose the cause of your hair loss.
Your doctor will ask detailed questions such as:
Tests that may be performed (but are rarely needed) include:
Ringworm on the scalp may require the use of an oral drug, such as griseofulvin. Creams and lotions applied to the affected area may not get into the hair follicles to kill the fungus.
For more information on treatment, see also:
Loss of hair; Alopecia; Baldness; Telogen effluvium
Mousney AL, Reed SW. Diagnosis and treating hair loss. Am Fam Physician. 2009;80:356-362.
Habif TP. Hair diseases. In: Habif TP, ed. Clinical Dermatology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 24.
Updated by: Kevin Berman, MD, PhD, Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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