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Female pattern baldness: Treatment and genetics

It is normal for women to shed some hair each day, but when bald patches or thinning occurs, it may be due to female pattern baldness.

Shedding about 50 to 100 hairs a day is considered normal, but new growth will typically replace these hairs. If someone has female pattern baldness, however, the lost hair is not renewed.

In this article, we look at the causes and risk factors for female pattern baldness, as well as treatment and prevention.

What is female pattern baldness?

Female pattern baldness in woman's scalp.
Female pattern baldness is characterized by excessive hair loss and thinning.

Female pattern baldness is a type of hair loss that affects women. The medical name for the condition is androgenetic alopecia.

Although both men and women may experience hair loss, it is not as widespread in women as in men and appears differently.

Men who have hair loss tend to develop a receding hairline and bald spots. Women with female pattern baldness usually experience general hair thinning, which affects the volume of their hair.

In women, the first signs of female pattern baldness may be a widening part or a feeling that the hair does not feel as thick as usual. Although the scalp may be visible, the hairline usually does not recede.

Hair loss is less frequent in women than in men, but it still occurs often. Female pattern baldness increases with age, and fewer than 50 percent of women have a full head of hair for their entire life.


Female pattern baldness and the genetic link

Genetics appears to be a significant factor in developing female pattern baldness, which means it runs in families. Women can inherit the gene for pattern baldness from either parent.

Female pattern baldness tends to be more common as a woman ages and reaches midlife, although it can begin earlier.

It often develops after menopause, so hormonal changes may also be a contributing factor.

Other causes of hair loss

Medication in pills.
Some types of medication may cause temporary hair loss as a side effect.

Female pattern baldness is largely thought to occur due to genetics. However, it may also develop due to an underlying condition that affects the production of the hormone androgen.

Androgen is a hormone that plays a role in pattern baldness. Tumors of the pituitary gland or ovary, which secrete androgen, may also lead to hair loss.

Other causes of hair loss in women include:

  • Autoimmune disease: Alopecia areata is a rare autoimmune disorder that causes the immune system to attack the hair follicles leading to hair loss.
  • Medication: Certain medications, such as those that are used to treat cancer, can cause hair loss as a side effect. However, hair usually regrows once a person has stopped taking the medication.
  • Illness: Hair loss can develop after a significant illness, such as a severe infection, high fever, or surgery.
  • Traction alopecia: This is hair loss that occurs when a person frequently wears hairstyles that pull the hair too tightly.


Treatment

The type of treatment recommended will depend on the extent of the hair loss, in addition to other factors.

Treatment for female pattern baldness can help prevent future hair loss and may result in regrowth of some hair. In most cases, long-term treatment is needed to prevent hair loss from recurring.

Treatment options include:

Minoxidil

Minoxidil is a topical medication that is used to treat hair loss in both men and women. The treatment is applied to the scalp every day and may stimulate hair growth, as well as prevent further hair thinning.

Minoxidil can take 6 months to a year to produce visible results and does not work for everyone. Side effects can include dryness, redness, and itching. Hair loss may return after a person stops using the product.

One well-known brand of Minoxidil is Rogaine, which is available to buy in many pharmacies and online.

Oral medication

One of the most common oral medications used to treat female pattern baldness is spironolactone, which is a diuretic. Diuretics remove excess water from the body.

The medication may also block the production of androgen, which may prevent hair loss and help hair regrow. Spironolactone can cause side effects, such as dry mouth, nausea, and dizziness.

Women who are pregnant should not take spironolactone due to a possibility that it might cause congenital disabilities.

Hair transplant

Female doctor and female patient in discussion
A hair transplant involves moving hair to an area of the scalp where it is missing.

Some women may choose to have a hair transplant. Various techniques may be used to perform hair transplantation.

Usually, hair loss affects only some areas of the scalp. During a hair transplant, a doctor removes hair from an area with healthy hair growth and transplants it to another spot where the hair is missing.

The area from which the doctor transplants the hair usually remains unaffected by hair loss. The doctor performs the procedure while a person is awake, and it takes several hours. A person will be given a local anesthetic to prevent pain.

Laser treatment

Some people may wish to try at-home laser treatment for hair loss. These devices work by emitting low levels of laser light to stimulate hair regrowth.

According to some research, low-level laser light therapy can stimulate hair growth in women and men. However, additional studies are needed to determine the effectiveness of this type of treatment, as it is possible that laser treatment companies may have partially funded this research.

Prevention

As female pattern baldness may be genetic, it is not always preventable. However, there are steps a woman can take to keep hair as healthy as possible to prevent breakage and damage.

Consider the following hair care tips:

  • Limit treatments that can lead to hair damage, such as perming, straightening, and hair extensions.
  • Eat a diet rich in protein, essential vitamins, and iron.
  • Protect the hair from sun damage by wearing a hat.
  • Avoid brushing the hair when it is wet and fragile. Use a comb or the fingers instead.


Outlook

Female pattern baldness can be distressing and affect a person’s self-confidence and self-image. Women who experience excessive hair loss should talk with their doctor or dermatologist, who can help determine the cause and best treatment option.

Early diagnosis can help a person develop a treatment plan that prevents further hair loss. Treatments are available that may help restore hair growth. The effectiveness may vary depending on the treatment selected and the amount of hair loss.

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