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Stress-related Hair Loss

By: Jose Maria M. Villarama IIStress-related Hair Loss

Nature and nurture play a big part in the growth and loss of hair. Out of the 100,000 or so hair strands on the scalp of an average person, about 100 are lost each day.  Among the causes of hair loss are:

Normal lifespan ­– The average lifespan of a strand of hair is about four and a half years.  When a hair strand ‘dies’, it is replaced by a new one in six month’s time.

Genetics – ‘Pattern baldness’ is more common in men than in women.  One out of 4 men, by age 30, begin to bald due to a decline in testosterone levels. 

Hair care and styling – Shampoos and styling products that contain harsh chemicals, frequent blow drying and ironing, as well as repeated hair coloring or treatment, may result in weaker or brittle hair that easily falls off.

Childbirth – Women commonly experience hair loss 3 months after childbirth.  This is triggered by a drop in estrogen and progesterone levels that are high during pregnancy.  Hair begins to grow back normally 9-12 months later.

Birth control pills – These affect hormone levels in the body and, as a result, affect hair growth.  Hair thinning may be caused by the presence of male hormones in some drugs which may result in male pattern baldness in women. 

Terminated pregnancy – A miscarriage or terminated pregnancy can also trigger sudden changes in hormonal levels that lead to hair loss.  This usually happens 3 months after the termination of the pregnancy.

Certain drugs –  Some prescription drugs can cause hair loss, such as allopurinol, blood thinners, and cholesterol-lowering drugs. Ask a pharmacist for help. 

Chemotherapy – Hair loss (scalp, facial, and pubic) due to chemotherapy may be sudden or slow depending on the dosage administered to the patient. This side effect is temporary as healthy non-cancerous cells are able to repair themselves after the chemotherapy 'attack'. 

Stress as a Factor

When the body is negatively affected by excessive physical and emotional stress, the body prioritizes to heal the distressed part of it, rather than concentrate its energies to maintaining the ‘health’ of hair. Stressors that may cause hair loss may be the death of a family member or someone close, a major illness, surgery, an accident, marital or relationship problems, financial woes, and intense work-related stress.  

Categories of stress-related hair loss:

Telogen effluvium – In this condition, hair stops growing and simply remains dormant or in the resting phase.  After 2 to 3 months of dormancy, the hair simply falls out.  Hair usually begins to grow back within half a year.  However, in some cases, diffuse and sudden hair loss may continue because of thyroid gland malfunction, hyper- and hypothyroidism, diabetes, anemia, and lupus.  The hair loss is treated when the underlying cause is addressed. Despite this, telogen effluvium is regarded as the less severe, albeit more common, stress-induced hair loss types.

Alopecia areata – Because of stress, white blood cells, which usually attack or ward off pathogens in the body, begin to attack the hair follicles.  As a result, hair falls out within weeks, usually in patches.  Body hair may also be attacked by the white corpuscles.  Although hair may eventually grow back on its own, treating the condition may be necessary especially if hair loss is already at its worst.

 Addressing the Problem

As long as the cause of stress is addressed, stress-related hair loss should not be too much of a concern.  By the time a stressful situation is resolved, hair would also start growing back to replace those that were shed off earlier.

Managing stress is the key to avoid hair loss and other illnesses that may be associated with physical or emotional trauma.  Among the ways to eliminate stress in one’s daily routine are:

Exercise – Exercise stimulates the body's produciton of endorphins that have been found to reduce stress. 

Taking deep breaths when in stressful situations – Breathing deeply clears the mind as it allows fresh oxygen into the blood and brain, making thought processes and decision making more manageable.

Journal or diary writing – Psychologists believe that writing down one’s thoughts and feelings can release the pent-up emotions or trauma that one has been keeping inside him/her.  Talking to a therapist, a confidant or close friend can also have the same cathartic effect.

Massages– Relax the muscles, ease spasms, increase the blood flow to skin and muscles, and can release mental and emotional stress.

One can also avail of hair procedures (e.g. hair transplant and scalp surgery), laser devices, and medicines (e.g. minoxidil) which your doctor may recommend, to encourage hair growth.

Pitfall of Self-Diagnosis

Even if one believes that his or her hair loss is stress-induced, the fact of the matter is that it may be caused by other factors.  That is why it is best to see a professional to determine what really causes one’s hair to fall before resorting to remedies that may otherwise be useless or too expensive.

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