Halting Hair Loss

But there is relief thanks to better ways to diagnose the problem and aggressive treatments to bring hair back.

For many women, hair defines personal style. It's no wonder the loss of this crowning glory can be psychologically devastating.

"I was blown away I was so embarrassed about it at first," said 25-year-old Esperanza Castillo, who may seem an unlikely victim. "I never thought I would have a problem with my hair."

Forty-three-year-old Felicia Willis was also horrified when clumps of hair began showing up in her comb.

"I would question, why me?" she said.

There are growing anecdotal reports that female hair loss is on the rise. It might be because women are finally coming out of the closet. Take Castillo, an active, seemingly healthy young woman who was embarrassed when she recently started losing her thick head of hair. She wants other young women to know they're not alone.

"I would wake up in the middle of the night and realize I was rolling over gobs of hair. It was just falling out in handfuls," she said.

So what causes hair loss in women? The list is never-ending, but researchers are starting to get a better handle on the problem. Besides genetics, it can also have a lot to do with hormone levels. Hormones can affect hair follicles at different stages in a woman's life: in her 20s while she's taking birth control, during pregnancy and of course, throughout and after menopause.

It's important to also know that hair loss can be a symptom of something else going on in your body. Other possible triggers might surprise you. For instance, an iron deficiency may be the culprit and with the right diagnosis, supplements may fix the problem.

"The earlier the intervention that we can do for hair loss the better your prognosis can be," said Dr. Lady C. Dy, dermatologist, Rush University Medical Center.

Doctor Dy is a hair loss expert and says many times there's no cure to thinning hair, but there are treatments. The solution begins with admitting there's a problem and finding the right specialist.

"Most of the hair loss in women is actually a reversible hair loss," she said.

Other common causes might be medications, dieting, even stress can play a big role.

"During that period of the stressful time, the hair says, 'OK I'm gonna stop growing right now,'" said Dr. Heather Wickless, dermatologist, Northwestern University. "A few months later, those hairs that stopped growing during that stressful time will all begin to come loose."

So what's a woman to do? Wickless says first, find out if there is an underlying cause with a thorough exam that may include a blood test and scalp biopsy. As far as treatments go, the drug Minoxidil is the only FDA-approved topical product. It can restore some volume, but growth may never be what it once was.

Wickelss diagnosed Castillo and Willis with alopecia areata. It's an auto immune condition where the body attacks hair follicles. Both patients are now getting treatment. Castilllo's is more intense; she's enduring steroid injections and her hair is coming back.

Finally, medical intervention will not work for everyone. The bottom line is women have choices. More are opting for hair transplants, lasers and wigs.

In patient Linda Lange's case, she went for something called le metric hair replacement

Hip Salon in Schaumburg uses this special track system that's sewn in existing hair and a hair piece to cover the thinning area is stitched in.

"It gives you wonderful self esteem after having no hair it's like feeling younger again," said Lange.

Styles involving tight braiding seem to be one of the biggest causes of permanent hair loss because the root can be damaged. Doctor Dy is researching this problem and the connection of hair loss to iron levels. Also, while it's normal for hair to thin as we age, women who think their hair loss is excessive should see a doctor.

Dr. Lady C. Dy
Rush Univ. Med. Ctr.
1725 W. Harrison St.
Chicago, Il. 60612

Dr. Heather Wickless
676 N. St. Clair St.
Suite 1600
Chicago, Il.

HIP Hair Innovation Professionals
Debra Hanaway
Vince Otero
174 E. Golf Rd.
Schaumburg, Il. 60173

American Hair Loss Assoc.

American Academy of Dermatology
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