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Stress and Hair Loss

By HERWriter
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“I’m so stressed out, I’m losing my hair!” said a friend going through trials with her teenage children. Stress really can make one lose their hair and they even have a name for this type of hair loss, called telogen effluvium. This common type of hair loss is often seen by dermatologists.

Telogen refers to the resting state between hair growth periods and effluvium means “outflow.” The three stages of hair growth are: anagen, where 80 to 90 percent of hairs are in the growth stage, catagen is the transitional stage where hair follicles shrink and telogen is the stage before hair loss, where 10 to 15 percent of hair lies.

Stress causes more hair to enter the telogen phase. The hair stops growing, then falls out two to three months later, but will usually grow back in six to nine months. This is why the hair loss is not immediate, but occurs after a stressful event, such as the loss of hair that occurs three to six months after childbirth. The sudden change in hormones creates this post-pregnancy stress; this type of hair loss is also called postpartum alopecia.

Other sources of stress that can cause telogen effluvium hair loss are: surgery, auto accidents, medical problems such as thyroid disease or lupus, physical trauma, dietary deficits, medications and severe emotional stress. Some dermatologists believe that low iron can contribute as well as lack of other substances that are frequently missing in our diets, such as zinc, amino acid L-lysine, or vitamins B6 and B12.

Teflogen effluvium is usually reversible once the precipitating event has passed or is treated, and the hair follicles return to their normal balance between anagen and teflogen. If emotional stress is the cause of the hair loss, then clearly the emotional burden is taking its toll and searching for ways to relieve stress becomes even more important.

Stress reducers such as exercise, listening to calm music and learning new ways to react to stressful situations, as well as eating a good diet, may help. It is also important to determine if any medical reason is contributing to the hair loss.

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EmpowHER Guest

Tammy, your physician can test your ferritin (iron) levels. Be careful of taking too much iron if not needed, can have adverse side effects the least of which is constipation. Topical minoxidil might help (at least might keep what you have and stop the diminished thickness of the hair strand. That good multivitamin or a B-complex may also help.
--Candace Hoffmann author, "Breaking the Silence on Women's Hair Loss" http://www.herloss.org

October 20, 2009 - 9:00pm

I also have telogen effluvium and Andreogenic Alopecia...that is what I was told after my Dr. did a scalp biopsy...I have had to now wear full wigs do to 90% of my hair being gone...any Ideas on if It will ever come back...or is it also from my hormone imbalnce an hysterectomy I just had in Feb 2008.

October 20, 2009 - 3:30pm

I read through the article and looked over the site. Interesting site, mostly run by Nurse Practioners with an MD oversight. As they said, estrogen levels do affect hair loss levels. During perimenopause, the estrogen level fluctuate with highs and lows while during menopause estrogen levels are no longer produced by the ovaries but still some estrogen is produced by the adrenal glands. In PCOS the testosterone produced in the body suppresses the normal estrogen amount. I wrote a few weeks ago an article here on EmpowHer on PCOS and hair.

The decision to take HRT or hormone replacement therapy is one that needs to be discussed with a doctor who knows your total medical history to weigh the risk of heart disease, breast cancer, osteoporosis vs the benefits of taking estrogen. Often estrogen replacement therapy is given to women with the idea they will wean off it in 5-7 years and the lowest possible dose is given. Some people prefer to use more natural forms of replacement. The topic of estrogen replacement is huge to cover.

Many women supplement their diet with higher estrogen foods like soy or flax seed or supplements like Black cohosh to offset other symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes or mood swings. I don't know if that will help with hair loss or not. I don't believe there are specific studies to test hair loss though I know that taking Black Cohosh has been studied some as an alternative to traditional HRT. It also goes without saying that taking anything internally, even herbs, should be discussed with your doctor.

June 29, 2009 - 6:51pm

Thanks for your thoughts Michele!

June 25, 2009 - 9:51pm

There actually is some current research about stress and gray hair. It is thought that stress can cause the stem cells to mature too fast so there isn't enough time for melanin production leading to gray or white hair. However, I havn't read the study and I believe the "stress" they are mostly referring to would be UV light or chemical exposure maybe from medications.

In terms of iron, women are often deficient in iron due to menstrual flow and dieting to lose weight. I imagine that with less iron, there is less oxygen going to the cells to make healthy hair. Before taking supplements, it is a good idea to get baseline labwork done so you know if they help raise your levels.

June 25, 2009 - 2:15pm

Interesting article! I would love to learn more about how and why hair changes color prematurely. A friend of mine was married young in an unhappy marriage. As she went through her divorce in her early twentys she went completely grey and remains that way. Can stress affect when you 'go grey'? Thanks! Kellie

June 25, 2009 - 1:21pm

Interesting article. My mother's hair thinned in her 40's as does my own. Both of us suffer anemia/or low iron. This is the first I have read that iron may be a contributing factor. I'm on my way to pick up some iron supplements now, along with a good multivitamin. Thank you, very informative.

June 25, 2009 - 11:36am

Hi Alysiak,

I copied just this sentence from the article below as you aren't supposed to copy and post any part of the article but it is a good article from American Family physician with photos and describes some of the treatments.

"The diagnosis is usually based on a thorough history and a focused physical examination. In some patients, selected laboratory tests or punch biopsy may be necessary."

This is the site of the rest of the article:

In general, a good physical exam by a doctor with screening labwork to rule out other medical conditions that a woman shows other symptoms of may provide clues as to whether the hair loss is an isolated problem or not. Review of medications is also important as hair loss could be a side effect of drugs as well.

June 23, 2009 - 6:14pm

Did anyone see the documentary, "Gray Gardens," about Edie Bouvier, Sr. and "Little" Edie (relatives of Jackie Bouvier Kennedy Onassis)? Little Edie suffered from alopecia that seemed to be associated with a high level of stress in her life.

Princess Caroline of Monaco also suffered this condition.

How is alopecia diagnosed versus other conditions that might cause the hair loss?

June 23, 2009 - 4:28pm

Thank you for taking the time to write such a positive comment. I went to your site and learned about the Sox21 gene study that indicates a gene may be responsible for hair loss. I hope it turns out to be a missing link. I think with hair loss, like many health issues, women suffer from being told their problems are psych related instead of practioners taking the time to be sure.


June 23, 2009 - 5:46am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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