Baldness: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment
Baldness, also known as alopecia or hair loss, refers to an excessive loss of hair that usually affects the scalp. It is considered normal to shed about 50 to 100 hair strands daily with new growth replacing these hairs. However, if the lost hairs are not renewed or come back thinner than the one that was shed, it eventually leads to baldness.
Although both men and women experience hair loss, it is not as common in women as in men and appears differently.
Patterns of Baldness
There exist two baldness patterns in humans- Male pattern baldness and Female pattern baldness.
- Men with male pattern baldness tend to develop a receding hairline and bald spots. In women, the hair becomes thinner rather than fall out and the resulting baldness may be less severe than in men.
- In the early stage of male pattern baldness, hair loss is noticed at the front of the head (temple) and gradually recedes to the back where the scalp in the upper and crown areas become more visible. In female pattern baldness, women lose hair from all over their head, starting at the part line. Hair at the temple may also recede.
- Female pattern and male pattern baldness usually occurs in people in their 40s and beyond.
Causes of Baldness
Baldness is usually related to one or more of the following factors-
Genetics play a significant role in developing baldness. Men and women can inherit the gene from parent baldness. You are more prone to developing baldness if your father, mother or other close relatives have experienced hair loss.
Baldness can develop after a significant illness. The stress from illness or surgery may prompt the body to temporarily cease such tasks as hair production. Some other specific conditions such as syphilis, iron deficiency, thyroid disorder or some certain type of cancer can trigger hair loss.
Medications and supplements-
Hair loss can result from the use of certain medications, such as those used for treating cancer, high blood pressure, arthritis and heart problems.
A rare autoimmune disease known as alopecia areata that causes the immune system to attack the hair follicle can lead to hair loss.
Changes in the level of certain hormones in men and women can lead to hair loss. Androgen is a hormone that plays a role in hair loss. A tumor of the pituitary gland that secretes androgen may play a role in hair loss.
In women, female pattern baldness becomes more common after menopause. This occurs because estrogen in the body decreases.
Risk factors of Baldness
Risk factors include-
- Family history of baldness from your mother or father.
- Significant weight loss.
- Medical conditions such as diabetes and lupus.
- Poor nutrition.
Symptoms of Baldness
The most common symptoms of baldness in men are-
- Bald patch on top of the scalp.
- Receding hairline from the front.
- Partial baldness.
The most common symptoms of baldness in women are-
- Excessive loss of hair.
- Overall thinning of hair.
- Reduction in the density of hair.
Diagnosis for Baldness
Your doctor will perform a physical exam on your scalp to see the pattern of hair loss and review your medical and family history. The doctor may also carry out certain tests such as-
- Blood test to uncover underlying medical conditions that may be related to your hair loss.
- Scalp biopsy where few hairs are plucked from your scalp to examine the hair root. This helps to determine whether hair loss is due to certain infection.
- Pull test, your doctor pulls multiple hairs to see how many hairs come out. The doctor can then determine the stage of the shedding process.
How to treat Baldness?
Early diagnosis is encouraged as it can get you on a treatment plan and minimize future loss. Treatments are available and may depend on the cause of your baldness.
If your baldness is caused by an underlying medical condition, treatment for such a condition may be of significant importance. If the excessive hair loss is caused by a certain medication that you are using, your doctor may ask you to stop using such medication for a while.
1. If hair loss is a result of iron deficiency, your doctor may prescribe an iron supplement.
2. If it is as a result of a gene that was passed from your parents (genetics), medications are available such as-
- Minoxidil (to treat pattern baldness in men and women).
- Finasteride and dutasteride (to treat hair loss in men). This is an oral medication.
- Spironolactone is one of the oral medications used to treat female pattern baldness.
Laser comb and helmet which works by emitting low levels of laser light to help stimulate hair regrowth are used. This treatment is FDA approved.
Ayurveda uses alternative medical therapy, including the use of leeches to suck blood from the scalp to increase circulation. It helps cover bald spots with fresh hair growth.
Acupuncture, a Chinese medical practice, involves activating trigger points that balances the body fluids and energies, this resolves the baldness problem by promoting hair growth. Some people may choose a hair transplant. During a hair transplant, hair is removed from an area with healthy hair growth and a transplant is made to the spot where the hair is missing. A surgical procedure to treat baldness is expensive with possible risks of bleeding and scarring.
Home Remedies for Baldness
Castor oil has anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties that can help reduce dandruff and hair loss. Frequent massage with warm castor oil 20 minutes before bath stimulates hair roots and increases blood circulation in the scalp.
Coconut oil contains nourishing fats and alpha-tocopherol that rejuvenate and moisturize the scalp. Massaging with warm coconut oil increases blood circulation to the hair and stimulates hair growth.
This essential oil has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antibacterial properties, which is good for thick and long hair.
Jojoba oil has anti-inflammatory and moisturizing properties. This can help in nourishing hair and promoting hair growth. Massaging this oil onto the scalp for a few minutes is effective for boosting hair growth.
Tea tree oil-
Extreme dandruff and scalp infections can sometimes lead to baldness. In such cases, tea tree oil works well as it is a broad spectrum antimicrobial agent. For this, dilute the essential oil by mixing it with a carrier oil. Apply this on the scalp and leave it for at least an hour then rinse using a mild shampoo.
Avoid fast food to keep your hair healthy. Drinking enough water and staying hydrated can help prevent hair loss. Include adequate portions of the foods listed below in your regular diet-
- Foods rich in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits and guavas.
- Lean meats like chicken and fish (to get enough protein to the hair follicles).
- Foods that contain vitamin A and beta-carotene, such as green leafy vegetables, broccoli, cantaloupe, chayote and apricots.
- Foods high in silica such as strawberries, red peppers, barley, oats, rice and beans.
- Milk, eggs and yogurt.
When to see a doctor?
If you are experiencing unusual hair loss, it is best to consult your doctor, especially if you notice a rash or pain on the scalp.