Alopecia (hair loss)

What causes hair loss?
Hair loss is not a diagnosis but a symptom of an underlying cause. There are many possible causes of hair loss. Sometimes more than one cause may be present.

The commonest cause of hair loss in both males and females is androgenetic alopecia (male and female pattern balding). Other common causes of generalised hair loss are telogen effluvium (increased hair shedding after pregnancy, stress or illness), medical conditions (e.g. iron deficiency, thyroid disease, syphilis), scalp infection and drugs. Some people have a focal type of hair loss called alopecia areata; they develop  bald “holes” in the scalp, which may be single or multiple. In this condition the body produces antibodies against the hair follicles. Occasionally the condition may be severe and rapid.

Dermatologists will assess the pattern of hair loss, the condition of the scalp and the patient’s general health before diagnosing the cause of hair loss. Sometimes, investigations are required.

What is the treatment for hair loss?
The treatment depends on the cause of the hair loss. Androgenetic alopecia can be controlled with certain medication (e.g. minoxidil, finasteride). Telogen effluvium is often temporary and should resolve in several months. Alopecia areata may be treated with injection or topical steroids. Any underlying medical condition causing the hair loss (e.g. iron deficiency) must be corrected.