Unexplained Hair Loss

Kelly Anne Spratt, D.O., Director of Women's Cardiovascular Health at the University of Pennsylvania Presbyterian Medical Center, answers your questions.

Q. I'm a 29-year-old female. Three years ago I began to notice my hair shedding more than normal. I've been to several doctors with no luck. This has made me very depressed. I'm scared I'm going to lose all my hair. Would there be anything in my environment that could be causing this? Or should I just accept the fact that I'm going to lose my hair and there is no cure for it?

A. More than 21 million women (1 in 4) have serious hair loss at some point in their lives. The most common form is female pattern baldness, which is an overall thinning mostly over the top and sides of the head. This is more common after menopause, with the fluctuations of hormones, but hair loss can begin even as early as puberty. The likelihood of having hair loss is influenced a great deal by heredity and can come from either parent's side, but this is only one risk factor.

Hair growth takes about six months per strand and so any physical or emotional stress, illness, or change in environment can take up to six months to be seen in your hair. In addition, medications -- including birth control pills or blood pressure medicines -- or diseases such as thyroid disease or a nutritional deficiency can also result in hair loss. Chemicals such as those used by your stylist may also cause hair loss, especially if you color or process your hair.

First, the more anxious and frightened you are, the more likely that the stress will contribute to further hair loss. Review any (ANY!) changes that have happened over the last few years and see what happened in the six months prior to the onset of this three years ago. In the meantime, you could try Propecia or topical Rogaine which are approved for hair loss. This is helpful about half of the time but must be used continuously or hair loss will resume once it is stopped.

Keep in mind that hair thinning does not guarantee total hair loss and that, just as suddenly as this all started, it can also stop. And please keep in mind that your beauty is more than "hair deep."