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I'm a 35-year-old woman with sudden hair loss. What's causing this? Add to ...

The question

I'm a 35-year-old female and have noticed some sudden and, what I perceive to be, severe hair loss.

I think I'm losing 200 to 300 hairs a day at least from all over my scalp, which is double or triple what I used to experience. I don't seem to have any other symptoms. What is going on?

The answer

Hair loss can cause a significant change in appearance and can be very upsetting to experience. On average, normal hair loss is less than 100 hairs per day.

Losing 200-300 hairs per day is abnormal, especially since you've noticed a sudden increase in the amount. This may be an indication of your body responding to a stressful event, illness, hormonal imbalance or medication.

In your case, given that this is a sudden change, you have no other symptoms, and that it is generalized hair loss vs. patchy hair loss - this is most likely related to a condition called telogen effluvium. With this condition, people may notice a loss of handfuls of hair and it is usually generalized involving the entire scalp.

Telogen effluvium may occur when there is some type of shock to your system - either emotional or physical -which causes your hair roots to be pushed prematurely into a resting state that causes the hair to fall out in large amounts. This shock could be from medications, illness, a major life stress, pregnancy or crash diets. The hair loss can occur anywhere from 6 weeks to 4 months after the initial shock to your system.

The reassuring news is that hair typically grows back once the triggering situation or condition is not causing further stress. Recovery can take several months and in general, no treatment is necessary.

While it sounds like what you are experiencing is telogen effluvium, I would still recommend seeing your doctor to confirm that there is no other cause for your hair loss.

Other possible causes may include but are not limited to: medical conditions such as:

  • thyroid disorders
  • other hormonal imbalances, and iron deficiency
  • medications - including antidepressants, birth control pills and others
  • fungal infections.

It's important to note that the most common cause of hair loss is hereditary thinning so let your doctor know if you have a family history of hair loss.

Hair loss can be quite devastating and it may be an early sign of a potentially-reversible medical condition, so I would recommend a visit to your doctor. He or she may be able to take a complete history, run some simple tests, and make suggestions for reversing or treating a condition to prevent further hair loss.

Send family doctor Sheila Wijayasinghe your questions at doctor@globeandmail.com. She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Dr. Wijayasinghe.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

 

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