Everyone loses hair on a daily basis. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, most people shed 50-100 hairs every day. More extreme hair loss—even in women—is relatively common. More than half of women experience some type of hair loss by the age of 70.
There are several causes of hair loss in women. Some situations, like extreme stress or hormonal fluctuations, can cause women to temporarily shed more hair than usual, to the point where they notice a difference in their hair’s fullness. Other women’s hair may stop growing altogether, which is often due to underlying genetics, a medical condition, or a side effect of a medication.
While it can be stressful to notice you’re shedding more or growing less hair than usual, a doctor can help you determine what’s causing your hair loss and how to treat it.
Types of Hair Loss in Women
There are two kinds of hair loss that can occur in women: excessive hair shedding, called telogen effluvium, and hair that stops growing, also known as anagen effluvium.
Telogen effluvium occurs when hair sheds more excessively than normal. Most people notice excessive shedding a few months after a stressful or traumatic event. Usually, the shedding stops on its own within 6-9 months. But if the stressor continues, the hair shedding may continue with it.
Anagen effluvium occurs when hair actually stops growing, which can result in both thinning hair and bald patches. Often, this is due to an underlying medical condition, such as an autoimmune disease, or a medication that causes hair thinning or hair loss as a side effect. If this is the case, hair won’t grow again until a doctor identifies and stops whatever is causing it.
In other cases, anagen effluvium is hereditary, caused by androgenetic alopecia. While this occurs in both men and women, female-pattern hair loss results in overall hair thinning, not the total balding or receding hairlines that are commonly seen with male-pattern hair loss.
Patterns of Hair Loss in Women
To describe female-pattern hair loss, clinicians use a measurement called the Ludwig scale to identify different stages:
- Type I: Minimal thinning that can be hidden with hair styling techniques.
- Type II: Decreased hair volume and noticeable widening of the mid-line part.
- Type III: Diffuse thinning with a see-through appearance on the top of the scalp.
By identifying these stages, doctors can determine the severity of the hair loss and recommend appropriate treatment.
Causes of Female Hair Loss
Along with genetics, there are several other factors that can contribute to temporary female hair loss, including:
- Traumatic events or extreme stress
- Weight loss of more than 20 pounds
- Recovering from an illness (particularly with a high fever)
- Hormonal changes during pregnancy, postpartum, or menopause
- Discontinuing birth control
Some medical conditions can cause hair to stop growing, such as:
- Thyroid conditions
- Nutritional deficiencies, such as low iron, zinc, or protein
- Alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease that attacks hair follicles
- Infections of the scalp, including ringworm
- Lichen planus, an inflammatory skin condition that can occur on the scalp
- Trichotillomania, a condition that causes people to pull out their own hair
- Fungal infections
Hair thinning and loss can also be a side effect of some prescription medications, including medicines for:
- High blood pressure
- Heart problems
What to Watch For and Risk Factors
It’s common—and normal—to lose some hair every day, especially if you’re under stress or undergoing a major life transition. But if you’re noticing significant thinning, a widening of your hair part, or bald spots, you might be experiencing more excessive hair loss.
If male or female pattern hair loss runs in your family, you may be at risk. You may also be at risk for hair loss if you style or treat your hair certain ways—for example, if you regularly braid your hair tightly, use heat products such as blow dryers or irons, or bleach or color your hair.
Treatment Options for Hair Loss
If you’re looking for a hair loss cure you should speak to your doctor to determine the cause. Sometimes, persistent hair loss is linked to an underlying medical condition—so how your doctor treats your hair loss depends on the cause. Often, treating the medical condition helps control the symptoms of hair loss.
For example, if your provider suspects your medication is causing your hair to thin or fall out, they may prescribe a different medication.
For alopecia or hereditary hair loss, over-the-counter hair loss treatments or hair loss shampoos, like Rogaine, can be effective. A doctor might also recommend an oral medication like spironolactone.
When lifestyle factors like nutritional deficiencies cause hair loss, doctors might recommend dietary changes and stress reduction techniques. For severe stress, a doctor might prescribe an anti-anxiety medication or an antidepressant.
In more extreme cases of hair loss, some people have found success with hair transplant surgery or laser therapy, which has been shown to help stimulate hair growth.
Hair Loss Prevention
Generally, hair loss isn’t predictable, so it can be tough to prevent it. Managing stress and eating a nutritious diet could prevent stress or nutrition-related hair loss, along with boosting your overall health.
If you’re concerned about hair loss, you may want to avoid tight hairstyles like braids or ponytails, since their pressure can damage hair follicles and ultimately worsen hair loss. If you’re currently experiencing hair loss, you may also want to avoid harsh chemicals like bleach and hair dye, which can cause stress to the hair and scalp, as well as hot treatments like blow dryers, curling irons, and straighteners.
When to See a Doctor
If you’re concerned about your hair loss, talk with a physician who can help you identify the underlying cause.
If you think a medication could be causing your hair to fall out, talk to your medical provider or chat with a K doctor before stopping the medication, since an abrupt stop can cause serious side effects.
How K Health Can Help
Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app? Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed text with a doctor in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.