Hair loss in women can signal other health conditions

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

Hair loss can be devastating for women, but the condition can also signal additional health issues.

An expert from the American Academy of Dermatology offers insight into the types of hair loss seen in women with darker skin tones, common types of 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, D.C.

“By recognizing the signs of hair loss and seeing your dermatologist as soon as possible, you’ll be able to limit progression, maintain the hair you have, and uncover any other underlying medical conditions you may have,” she said in an academy press release. .

One condition – central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia (CCCA) – causes hair loss in the center of the scalp. This is the most common type of hair loss seen in women with darker skin tones, affecting nearly 15% of black women.

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

A dermatologist can diagnose this condition and work out a treatment plan, which may include antibiotics, topical steroid medication or corticosteroid injections, offering pain relief and no itchiness. It can also prevent the scars from getting worse.

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

Female pattern hair loss is also common, affecting millions of women of all skin tones.

With this hereditary condition, the hair thins mainly on the upper part of the scalp. It usually starts with an enlargement of the central part of the hair. Many women with female-pattern hair loss also have acne due to increased hormones, Callender said. Menopause and high blood pressure are also common as female pattern hair loss progresses.

A possible treatment for this is minoxidil, which can reduce hair loss, stimulate hair growth, and strengthen existing hair shafts. You can buy products containing this at the pharmacy, but a dermatologist can provide a higher dosage available with a prescription.

Hairstyles that pull the hair too much can cause traction alopecia, which is common in women with darker skin tones due to hair styling.

“One of the first things I ask my patients with a history of braiding is does it hurt when the hair is braided,” Callender said. “Doing their hair shouldn’t hurt, so if they experience pain, it’s an indicator that they may be developing traction alopecia.”

A person can still maintain a sense of style, but with a looser hairstyle or avoiding frequent use of styles that pull hair.

The ingredients in hair products are also important, Callender said. While women with darker skin tones, particularly those of African descent, have hair that tends to be coarse, dry and brittle, 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.

“When treatments are not effective in preventing hair loss, a permanent solution is to consider a hair transplant, which creates natural-looking results,” said Callender. “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 be successful. A dermatologist certificate can determine if a hair transplant is the right option.”

Callender will give a presentation on hair loss at an American Academy of Dermatology meeting 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 signal other health conditions

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