There are also other visual cues that women can look for over time. Although men’s hair tends to recede from the forehead or the crown of the head, women tend to notice thinning on the top third to one half of the scalp. Sometimes their frontal line stays intact, says Nicole Rogers, MD, of Old Metairie Dermatology in Metairie, La. Women may see a part that is gradually becoming wider or see more of their scalp than normal when their hair is pulled back.
When a patient comes in with concerns about hair loss, there is a combination of ways to make a diagnosis, Rogers says. Preliminary blood work is usually taken to make sure the thyroid gland or an autoimmune disease isn’t the culprit.
In Your Genes
Another way to diagnose what the problem is just by looking and listening, Rogers says. She asks what a patient’s mother, aunts, or grandmothers look like – if they have similar, or greater amounts, of hair loss. Using magnification on the scalp can show if a woman’s follicles vary in size – with some thick and others thin. These are two telltale signs of female pattern hair loss, also called androgenetic alopecia.
This is a hereditary condition that affects about 30 million American women, according to the America Academy of Dermatology, and is the most common kind of hair loss Rogers sees in her practice. She tells WebMD that it happens to about 50% of women. Although it mostly occurs in the late 50s or 60s, it can happen at any time, even during teenage years, Rogers says.
Typically, each time a normal hair follicle is shed, it is replaced by hair that is equal in size. But in women with female-pattern hair loss, the new hair is finer and thinner – a more miniaturized version of itself, Rogers says. The hair follicles are shrinking and eventually they quit growing altogether.
Medical and Other Conditions
If hair follicles are uniform in size, or if the hair loss is sudden, it is likely to be caused by something other than heredity, like a medical condition, Rogers says.
There are a wide range of conditions that can bring on hair loss, with some of the most common being pregnancy, thyroid disorders, and anemia. Others include autoimmune diseases, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and skin conditions such as psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis, Rogers says.
Though there has been a link between menopause and hair loss, Roberts says she doesn’t think there is a direct correlation. It could be that menopause and hair loss just occur at the same age.