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Balding in men is so common it doesn’t raise an eyebrow. But when a woman starts to lose hair, it can be extremely distressing. Will she end up bald, too?
Help, I’ve got alopecia!
The term alopecia means hair loss. It doesn’t describe the type or the cause of a particular sort of hair loss; women can lose significant amounts of hair for a number of very different reasons.
Everyone knows chemotherapy can make hair fall out. But after the medical treatment hair will grow again.
Similarly, hair over the entire scalp can be shed because of other medications, pregnancy, thyroid disorders, major surgery, fever, blood loss, iron deficiency, starvation and crash dieting. The shedding, called telogen effluvium, can last two or three months before the woman recovers completely, although occasionally it can become chronic.
Then there’s alopecia areata, an autoimmune condition said to have affected Marie Antoinette, where clumps of hair fall out and leave bald patches.
Female pattern hair loss (FPHL) is quite distinct from all these types of hair loss. It is a genetic condition and almost 60 per cent of Australian women are predisposed to it.
The course of FPHL differs from woman to women: some will be affected almost as soon as they reach puberty; others may remain unaffected until after menopause. But once it starts, an additional five to 10 per cent of hair will be lost each year, mostly from the crown.
An additional problem for many women is how little hair and health professionals know about the condition. Initial visits may result in comments such as, “It’s just stress/pregnancy/the weather — it’ll grow back.” Or, “You’re imagining things! You have plenty of hair.”