Some Medical Conditions That Causes Hair Loss

For dermatologists, women complaining of hair loss has become a common and challenging condition. The hair follicle is a dynamic mini organ that undergoes continuous cycling throughout adult life. It consists of various different cell populations of neural crest, ectodermal or mesodermal origin, which is distinct in their location, function and gene and protein expression characteristics. Change in the normal dynamic behavior of the hair follicle is strongly associated with the disorders that are associated with hair growth.

There are various factors that contribute to an increased loss of hair and most often, unhealthy dietary pattern and emotional distress are the causes of frequent hair loss. But sometimes, hair loss act as a symptom of an underlying condition. There are certain medical disorders that lead to the loss of hair and require treatment. Most of the time, when hair fall is associated with any medical condition, the hair loss becomes noticeable. Some of the medical conditions that promote hair loss include:

1. Thyroid disorders

Yes, thyroid disorder can be responsible for hair loss. It is not necessary that hair fall can result only from disorders of hair but it can result from other health diseases as well, including thyroid disorders. Multiple studies suggest that both overactive thyroid and an underactive thyroid can affect hair follicle and cause hair fall. Abnormalities with thyroid hormones are commonly associated with changes in hair follicles and its function. Prominent hair abnormalities have been observed in patients thyroid disorders.

The thyroid is a gland that is responsible for the production of the hormones which are vital for the normal functioning of the human body. Primarily it produces two hormones, namely triiodothyronine and thyroxine. These hormones are required for metabolism and various other functions and any problem in the production of these hormones causes thyroid disorders.  

  • Hypothyroidism - It is defined as a condition in which the thyroid gland becomes underactive and produces thyroid amount less than the normal level.

The diffuse loss of scalp hair follicles, body hair, and the lateral eyebrows are clinical signs associated with hypothyroidism, accompanied by dull hair shaft. To some extent, hyperthyroidism is also associated with an increased hair loss.

2. Alopecia areata

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Alopecia is a general term which is used for hair loss. Alopecia areata is a chronic disease which affects the hair follicles, a part of the skin from which hair grows. It is characterized by hair loss in small, round patches of baldness on the scalp and hair on other parts of the body such as beard, eyebrows, eyelashes, and limbs can also be affected by this disorder. Most often, people with this disease get only a few bare patches but sometimes people may lose more hair. In the rare cases, it can lead to total loss of hair on the head or complete loss of hair on the entire body, including a face.

Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disorder. Hair loss results from the inflammation and the inflammation occurs due to the defect in the functioning of the immune system. Normally, the immune system acts as a defense system and protect the body against infections and diseases. In an autoimmune disease, the immune system in the body mistakenly attacks the parts of the body and alopecia areata, the immune system attacks the growing hair. When the follicle is attacked, it causes the hair to fall out just below the surface of the skin.

3. Telogen effluvium

Telogen effluvium is a disorder which is often triggered by the stress, hormonal changes, and certain medications. Telogen effluvium is characterized by hair loss in a large amount and it becomes noticeable after washing or brushing the hair. Sometimes people having telogen effluvium also notice hair on the pillow when they wake up in the morning. The symptoms of telogen effluvium begin with a decrease in the thickness and it results in the thinning of hair volume. The shedding of hair in this type of hair disorder is usually from all over the scalp.

Telogen effluvium is the major cause of hair loss in people these days and it can be triggered by various factors such as childbirth, febrile episode, surgical operation, iron deficiency, and crash dieting. Crash dieting is a chronic protein-calorie malnutrition that can cause hair loss and is sometimes accompanied by hair shaft abnormalities.

Other than medical conditions, menopause is one of the common cause of hair loss. Menopause is that time in the life of women when they stop having their periods or menstrual cycle. Estrogen is a hormone that controls the menstrual cycle and when ovaries stop the production of this hormone, it causes menopause. Vaginal and urinary tract changes, sleep problems and hot flashes are the common features of menopause, sometimes problems with hair are also witnessed in menopausal women. Many a time, menopausal women complain of an increased hair loss.

Menopause or aging associated with hormonal changes can also affect some of the characteristics of hair and is responsible for decreased hair coverage in the middle aged women. When menopause happens, the changes in the hair distribution and in the hair structure in the women’s body begin. In menopausal women, hair follicles are also affected. Also, loss of estrogen production is the cause of menopause and there is an evidence that an estrogen receptor pathway within the dermal papilla regulates the telogen-anagen transition of the hair follicle. Estrogen plays an important role in hair growth. Therefore, an increase in the hair loss in middle aged women can be due to menopause.