Hair loss in women can indicate other health problems

Breast cancer, high cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure are common in black women with a hair loss called central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia. Photo by Phimchanok Srisuriyamart/Pixabay

Hair loss can be devastating for women, but the condition can also indicate additional health problems.

An expert from the American Academy of Dermatology provides information on the types of hair loss seen in dark-skinned women, common medical conditions associated with hair loss, and treatment options.

“Research shows that women who experience hair loss may also have other medical conditions, such as diabetes, acne and breast cancer,” said Dr. Valerie Callender, professor of dermatology at Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, DC

“By recognizing the signs of hair loss and seeing your dermatologist as soon as possible, you may be able to limit the progression, retain your hair and discover any other underlying medical conditions,” she said in a press release from the academy.

One condition – central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia (CCCA) – causes hair loss in the center of the scalp. This is the most common form of hair loss in dark-skinned women, affecting nearly 15% of black women.

Early detection is important because CCCA can cause scarring by destroying hair follicles. Once the hair follicle is completely scarred, regrowth becomes difficult and hair loss can be permanent.

A dermatologist can diagnose this condition and work on a treatment plan, which may include antibiotics, topical steroid medication, or corticosteroid injections, all of which avoid pain relief and itching. It can also prevent scars from getting worse.

Breast cancer, high cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure are common among black women with CCCA, Callender said. A dermatologist may be able to provide a woman with information about whether the hair loss could be a symptom of another disease.

Female hair loss is also common and affects millions of women of all skin tones.

In this hereditary condition, the hair thins out mainly on the top of the scalp. It usually starts with a widening of the middle part of the hair. Many women with female hair loss also have acne because of elevated hormones, Callender said. Menopause and high blood pressure are also common as hair loss progresses in women.

One possible treatment for this is minoxidil, which can reduce hair loss, stimulate hair growth and strengthen existing hair strands. You can buy products containing it at the drug store, but a dermatologist may be able to give you a higher dosage on prescription.

Haircuts that pull tightly on the hair can cause pulling alopecia, which is common in dark-skinned women as a result of hair styling.

“One of the first things I ask my patients who have a history of braiding is whether it hurts when their hair is braided,” Callender said. “Getting your hair done shouldn’t hurt, so if they’re in pain, it’s an indicator they may be developing traction alopecia.”

A person can still maintain a sense of style, but with a looser approach or by avoiding frequent use of hairstyles that pull on the hair.

Ingredients in hair products are also important, Callender said. While dark-skinned women, especially those of African descent, have hair that tends to be coarse, dry, and fragile, some shampoos for dandruff and other scalp conditions can further dry out hair, leading to breakage. Shampoos and hair products should contain ingredients that moisturize the hair, such as vitamins A and E, jojoba oil and shea butter.

“If treatments are not effective in preventing hair loss, a permanent solution is to consider a hair transplant, which produces natural-looking results,” Callender said. “Hair transplants are most effective in patients with traction alopecia and female-pattern hair loss. While patients with CCCA are not always ideal candidates for a hair transplant due to scarring, it is possible for them to have success. A board-certified dermatologist can determine that whether a hair transplant is the right option.”

Callender will be giving a presentation on hair loss at a meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology in New Orleans, March 17-21.

More information

The Journal of the American Medical Association has more on common causes of hair loss.

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Hair loss in women can indicate other health problems

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