Women expect hot flashes and mood swings to occur during “the change,” but many women are unaware and unprepared for the fact that they may also find themselves facing hair loss and thinning during this time as well. After menopause, about 40 percent of women experience hair thinning, which is almost the same rate as men. But if this is true, why don’t we see bald women on the street? Unlike male pattern hair loss, hereditary hair loss in women is usually a lot subtler and it can be easy to miss the early warning signs. Women tend to experience thinning over a wide area of scalp, and for many, the first signs and symptoms may come in the form of a smaller ponytail, a wider part line or excessive shedding during brushing and showering.
Hair loss before, during or after menopause — as well as after childbirth — is commonly attributed to hormonal changes. And while most physicians agree that replacing these hormones can alleviate many of the other troubling symptoms of menopause, unfortunately, hormone replacement alone does not seem to radically alter a woman’s “follicular fate,” and can even sometimes make matters worse.
Since September is Menopause Awareness Month, it is a good time to take a look at menopausal hair loss, to help women understand the causes of their hair loss as well as learn what they can do to treat it.
- Role of Hormones — Just as high levels of female hormones during pregnancy leave women with fuller, healthier hair, the declining levels during menopause may have the opposite impact. In addition, when the levels of female hormones fall, the effects of androgens (male hormones) can increase, causing certain hair follicles to fail. Depending on your genetic risk, these follicles produce progressively weaker hair and then eventually none at all. If your doctor has recommended replacing your declining testosterone levels, this also may work against your luscious locks as many aging women can experience increased hair loss from testosterone, especially if they are “androgen sensitive.”
- Beyond Hormones, Contributing Factors — When it comes to menopausal hair loss, lower female hormones might be the most common culprit, but other contributing factors may need to be considered as well. These risk factors include genetic predisposition, unusual levels of stress, other hormonal imbalances — like thyroid, for example — nutritional or iron deficiencies, crash diets, as well as illness, medications and your surgical history. A detailed medical history and diagnostic tests are obtained as an important part of a medical hair-loss evaluation to identify risk factors.
- Common Mistakes to Avoid — When it comes to hair loss, missing the early signs is one of the first mistakes many women make. A staggering 50 percent loss can occur before it’s noticeable to the human eye. The other common mistake women (and men, for that matter) make when trying to treat their hair loss is not giving enough time for therapy to work and not tracking their results properly. Just like hair loss, initial changes in hair regrowth take time and can be subtle before they are noticeable to the naked eye.
- Hair Loss Is a Treatable Condition — Hair restoration physicians may recommend both pharmaceutical and lifestyle changes to women experiencing menopause-related hair-loss problems. Medical treatments that will help mitigate hair loss include a specially compounded prescription minoxidil solution, platelet-rich plasma injections (PRP, also called the “vampire hair growth treatment”), prostaglandin analogs, low-level laser therapy, off-label finasteride (for post-menopausal women only) and nutritional supplements. The best strategy is to use a multi-therapy approach and routine follow ups for tracking purposes to see what’s working.
- Hair Loss Can Have Psychological Effects — While hair loss is often falsely thought of as merely a cosmetic problem, studies have proven that hair loss can have wide-ranging psychological effects on women, including loss of confidence and self-esteem and in some cases, depression, anxiety, social withdrawal and more. Whether your hair loss is the result of natural hormonal changes and/or other underlying causes, in most cases hair loss is a treatable condition and not something you have to live with or hide. Preventing further hair loss and improving hair growth can restore a feeling of vitality, youth and confidence for women.
If you’re worried about hair loss, it is important to consult with a both your primary doctor and an experienced hair restoration physician — someone who specializes exclusively in the medical diagnosis, treatment and tracking of hair loss and its treatment. Only a qualified and experienced hair restoration physician can prescribe the most effective multi-therapy treatment options, including the latest available products.