Is your hair sending you an SOS?
It’s amazing how much power our hair seems to have over us.
On a good hair day, we’re on top of the world. On a bad one… not so much. We spend tons of time and money on different cuts, colors, and treatments. Our hair is one of the ways we express ourselves, and it can send a powerful message to others about who we are (or who we want to be).
But what about when our mane is sending us a message — or specifically, a cry for help? After all, hair is more than what we see when we look in the mirror; it also can reflect what’s happening with our general health. While damaged hair can have obvious, um, roots (we know that achieving certain looks with harsh chemicals or excessive heat styling can result in frazzled or lost locks), thinning hair can be an indicator that something more serious is going on.
It’s important to differentiate between hair loss and the amount of hair we naturally lose on a daily basis.
“It is normal to lose 50-100 hairs a day, but this varies during times of stress and even in different seasons,” explains Dr. Erin Gilbert MD, PhD, a board-certified dermatologist and neuroscientist and the founder of Gilbert Dermatology in Brooklyn, NY.
“If you are losing a lot of hair rapidly, or in patches, this may indicate that there’s an underlying cause.” Here are four conditions to look out for…
1. Thyroid Disease
Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland, which is located in the neck, produces too much thyroxine; hypothyroidism is when not enough of the hormone is produced. The symptoms are varied, but center around the body’s metabolism and may mimic nervousness and anxiety, such as a racing heart, increased sweating, and shaking hands.
While this may sound like just another day for us nervous Nellies, the accompanying symptom of hair loss can serve as an indicator of thyroid disease. The good news is that once the disorder is treated, hair will grow back, even if it takes a while because of the cycle of growth. So if you’re experiencing the above symptoms, it’s essential you book in to see your doc and request a thyroid test.
Lupus is an autoimmune disease with a wide range of symptoms that can affect many parts of the body. The general warning signs of lupus can be “an unexplained rash, ongoing fever, persistent aching or fatigue,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
A common symptom (seen in around 50 percent of people with the disease) is a butterfly-shaped facial rash that spans from one cheek to the other. And an early sign of lupus can be hair loss; because lupus causes swelling, the scalp can become inflamed and affect hair growth. As with thyroid disease, treating the illness itself can help resolve hair loss; but unfortunately, if scarring of the scalp occurs, hair loss can be permanent.
“Seeing a dermatologist and getting treated early is important,” says Dr. Gilbert, who warns that the disease is not limited to the skin: “tests should be done to rule out any systemic involvement of the disease since it can affect many organs.
A connection between healthy hair and a healthy body sounds like just plain common sense, but studies have shown that there truly is a link between iron deficiency (anemia) and hair loss. Other symptoms of anemia include tiredness, dizziness, and cold extremities — and as the condition worsens, so do the symptoms.
Treatment can be as simple as taking an iron supplement, but don’t try to solve the problem yourself with self-medicating! For one thing, taking too much iron can cause dangerous iron overload. Also, just as hair loss can be a symptom of anemia, anemia can be a symptom of a serious illness, so make an appointment with your doc. Once you’ve been properly diagnosed with low levels of iron, you’ll be prescribed an iron supplement that will help get you — and your hair — back on a healthy track.
4. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
Affecting one in 10 women of childbearing age, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is an imbalance that creates an abundance of male hormones (also called androgens) and affects ovulation.
Usually, the ovaries produce an egg for each menstrual cycle; when production is affected by PCOS, symptoms may include acne, weight gain, and irregular or missed periods. Hair growth can also be affected, and not just with regards to thinning hair (which, when caused by PCOS, presents as the classic male-pattern baldness at the hairline and crown) — hirsutism (excess hair in unwanted areas such as the face, arms, and back) may occur as well.
While there is no cure for PCOS, it can be treated not just with medication, but with lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise. As with other disorders, early treatment is key to preventing complications down the road, as well as addressing loss (or unwanted growth) of hair.
Images via giphy.com and pexels.com.
Comment: Do you suffer from hair loss? How does it affect you?
Luisa is SHESAID's beauty writer and a New Yorker who has been writing and editing professionally since 1997, when she started working at New York magazine. Since then, her work has appeared in numerous publications, including the New York Times, New York, USA Today, Family Circle, Glamour, and many more. Follow Luisa on Twitter.