Hair loss is frustrating for both men and women.Â There are many circumstances that can cause hair loss, but many people donâ€™t realize that medical stress can result in your tresses falling out.Â Yes, itâ€™s true.Â The stress of an illness, rather than a side effect of medication such as chemotherapy, can actually make your hair fall outâ€”at least some of it.
When a medical stress leads to hair loss, the stress of illness causes many hairs (each anchored in a separate hair follicle) to stop growing. Several months after the hairs in their follicles begin â€œrestingâ€ (several months after the medical stress or illness was at its worst), replacement hairs begin to grow. The replacement hairs from each follicle push the old hair to the scalp surface, and it is at this time that the hair falls out loosely. This type of hair loss is named telogen effluvium. The most common medical stress that can result in telogen effluvium is pregnancy and childbirth.
One or more small patches of hair loss can be caused by an autoimmune problem called alopecia areata. Alopecia areata is frequently accompanied by one or more additional autoimmune problems, such as thyroid disease, the skin rash vitiligo, or pernicious anemia, which is an immune attack in the digestive system resulting in a deficiency in vitamin B12. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune problem in most cases, but it is not as closely associated with alopecia areata and hair loss.
Sometimes, type 2 diabetes occurs at the same time as a hormonal imbalance for women, known as polycystic ovary syndrome. Both of these conditions have been linked to insulin resistance, the lessened ability of cells in the body to react to the hormone insulin. Polycystic ovary syndrome can be associated with a receding hairline and with hair growth in cosmetically undesirable locations for women, such as the lip, or the chest.
Have you experienced hair loss do to medical stress? What about for any other reason? How did you deal with the problem?
Julie K. Silver, M.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School. She is also the Chief Editor of Books for Harvard Health Publications.
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