Hair Loss in Women: My Story - Helpful Hints and Resources
Are You at War With Your Hair?
I have always waged a personal war with my hair. While many people who know me will tell you that I have (or rather ‘had’) beautiful, thick, wavy/curly hair, I always saw it as frizzy, fuzzy, course and unmanageable. What I would give to have it back.
It is not my intention to bore anyone to tears with my personal ordeal with hair loss, but I assume that if you have read this far, you are someone who is in the initial stages, or worse, the midst of a hair loss crisis. You will either be forewarned by my experience or relate to it completely, because from the forums I have read on this subject, my journey, albeit with my own personal twists and turns, is fairly typical for women struggling with hair loss.
Once Upon a Time . . .
It began in 2008 . . . I think. You see, it was a gradual thing. When I washed my hair in the shower, I began to notice more hair than usual falling out. Silly me, I wasn’t too alarmed and really didn’t even give it a second thought. I was going through a very stressful period in my life, eating too much junk food and wasn’t taking a really good daily vitamin . . . so what did I expect? Besides, your hair, like your fingernails, just keeps growing, right? It replenishes itself. So why worry? And unbelievably, this hair loss didn’t change the way it looked to me let alone anyone else.
But, I do remember complaining to my hairdresser about how dry, dull and course my hair seemed to be. He told me that that was just my hair type. Not true as photos of me at seven years old show a very thick and shiny head of hair. But as I was highlighting my hair and this made it shinier, I didn’t dwell on the possibility that my hair may be more unhealthy than I imagined.
During this time, my skin also seemed to be changing in texture and becoming more oily and prone to breakouts, and I was constantly getting yeast infections. As I was going through a time in which I was changing the Pill off and on, trying to find one that worked with the desired side effects rather than not, I chalked these problems up to that. It wasn’t until later that I learned these symptoms should have been more cause for concern and that certain types of birth control pills can lead to hair loss.
Mid-2010 │ All of this continued off and on until the middle of 2010 when my scalp apparently decided it had been asking for help for long enough to no avail and my hair really started to fall out . . . as in REALLY fall out.
My scalp now had my full attention! In fact, I freaked out, because I finally realized that a) my hair was falling out faster than it was growing in and b) when it did grow in, it was not my normal hair.
There were new hairs growing in but in a rather thick fringe around my face. And my new hairs were frizzy in a way I had never known before. A forum described the type of hair I now had as having a “cotton candy” texture – perfect description. At the same time it was limp and stringy, soft and fine. Each strand was at least three times thinner in diameter than my original beauties. Some were completely transparent; some were transparent only at one end. The lost hairs ranged in length from a foot to less than an inch. My ponytail rapidly went from being a 1-1/2” thick bundle to at least half that diameter.
The only positive side of the situation was that I had been wearing my hair long and putting it up in a twist on the top or back of my head. Not very stylish but I soon learned that these were the best ways to hide the fact that my hair had gone-to-hell-in-a-hand-basket. I was also very lucky in that I had always had very thick hair so that when it did start to fall out at this rate, the loss was less obvious.
Mid-2010 │ After doing some research, I decided that my first step should be a trip to a dermatologist – immediately. After all, dermatologists are supposed to be the experts in the area of skin, hair and nails. Right . . . ?
How knowledgeable . . .
was the first doctor you saw regarding your hair loss?
To make a long story short, although practically every website on hair loss will tell you to go to a dermatologist, I wouldn’t. Unless the dermatologist specializes in hair loss, they’re not going to have a clue. If they’re really clueless (like the one I went to), they’ll just recommend Rogaine and shove you out the door with a good luck pat on the back. If you’re lucky and encounter one who is in command of her grey matter and is, blessedly, of the belief that doctors should at least attempt to act like they care, she may recommend some basic blood tests to rule out vitamin and mineral deficiencies. The only positive outcome of my run in with the dermatologist was that we both agreed that what I had was probably telogen eluvium, so ultimately my hair would grow back. At some indefinable point in time. Sigh.
Mid-2010 │ My next step, in the meantime, was to be “proactive” and do everything that I could to make my scalp healthy again. Much of my internet research led me to believe that massaging your scalp was very helpful. So I bought an ebook that espoused essential oils and got to work. Needless to say, I had a very well massaged scalp. I do not belittle this option. In fact, from what I’ve learned about scalp massage, I would recommend everyone, even with healthy hair, do this on a regular basis. At the time, I think that it slowed the fall out.
The General Practitioner
Late-2010 │ But my hair was still not growing back in normally and was still falling out more than I thought it should. After doing still more research, I headed off to my general doctor for some basic blood tests. According to him, the tests determined that I had a Vitamin D deficiency. Finally! The answer! Vitamin D coming up.
I started taking 5000mg of Vitamin D and my hair, although seeming to grow in a little more was still not returning to its normal healthiness. But hair regrowth takes a long time, and I was willing to be patient and wait the wait.
Mid-2011 │ The light at the end of my Tunnel of Life’s Stresses was growing somewhat larger and while my hair was still not back to normal (funny how the longer this went on, the harder it was to remember what “normal” was), I was determined to be patient.
And then the nightmare started all over again. My hair started coming out in handfuls once more. I now realized that I was probably facing chronic telogen effluvium. And if I couldn’t stop it, my hair loss was going to begin to show.
Iron is a Big Deal!
Iron is a big deal when it comes to hair. It was about this time that I really started to believe that my hair loss was connected to low iron levels. Symptoms of iron deficiency include:
- pale skin
- apathy / depression
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
- frequent infections
- dizziness / lightheadedness
- inability to concentrate
- cold hands and feet
- sore or swollen tongue
- brittle nails
- rapid heartbeat
- unusual craving for nonfood items such as dirt, ice, paint or starch
- a tingling or crawling feeling in the legs (restless legs syndrome)
- hair loss
I had 14 out of the 19 symptoms. I felt better every time I took iron supplements and the negative effects when I stopped. But according to at least four doctors I have seen since beginning my "journey," my iron levels were perfectly fine!
Mid-2011 │ After yet more research (and after certain other symptoms began to appear), I made an appointment with an endocrinologist. He decided to do some, but not all, of the tests for a thyroid or hormonal problem. I requested a ferritin serum test be added as the previous basic blood tests did not include this, and from the internet research that I had done, low ferritin levels can very easily be the underlying cause of hair loss.
My test results came in and the endocrinologist proclaimed me “normal” (utterly ridiculous considering my other symptoms). According to him, even my ferritin levels were “normal”. The medically accepted normal range for ferritin levels in women is anywhere from 10 to 125, but everything I had discovered in my research said that for someone with hair loss, 50 was the minimum ferritin level for hair regrowth and optimum levels for hair regrowth were 70, some even saying 100 to 125. My ferritin level was 24! But apparently according to the Holy Bible for Doctors, I was fine. And those Vitamin D levels I was told were low by my general practitioner, my endocrinologist said were not low enough to be considered a problem. Just to confuse matters.
Mid-2011 │ I heard through a friend of a lady who was an iridologist, and I set up an appointment. I was curious. For those who don’t know, iridology is a form of alternative medicine in which the practitioner takes a picture of your eye and then proceeds to tell you exactly what is wrong with you. Without me giving her a reason as to why I had come to her, she told me, among other things, that I had been deficient in iron (ferritin) for a long, long time. Bingo . . . ?
How many doctors . . .
have you gone to trying to find a remedy for your hair loss?
Late-2014 │I am still fighting hair loss. After going through it for so long, I've really forgotten what my hair used to be like . . . until I put my hair up into a barrette on the top of my head and it slides down the back.
I have a better idea of what will probably trigger a shed but still don't know what will return my hair to what it used to be. I truly believe it has something to do with low iron and thyroid issues but convincing doctors of this is a fight. If there is anything I have learned so far, it’s that there is not going to be a quick and easy solution to my ordeal. And if there ever is a solution, it's probably going to be me, not the doctors, who finds it.
Fighting hair loss can be a frustrating, lonely and depressing journey. I wish that I could give you a simple three step program that would grow your hair back. I wish that I had a simple three step program to grow my hair back! Unfortunately, for some, there are no easy answers for serious hair loss. But maybe the following will help.
Solutions . . . Ok, Helpful Hints
While some women affected by hair loss may have initially been aware that they were losing more hair than normal, they (like me) ignored it and didn't try to rectify it immediately as they should have. It is vitally important to find the real, underlying reason your hair is falling out - when it starts. More easily said than done, but this part of the equation is crucial.
I would highly recommend the following pointers on your path to understanding your hair loss. The bad news is that this may literally take years as my timeline above shows. So get going!
1 • Become Informed • You must understand the issues yourself. Get on the amazing internet and research . . . and research . . . and research. I found my information about low ferritin levels buried in a forum. Unfortunately, I researched very little, became desperate, went to a doctor, wasn’t helped, researched some more and then repeated the cycle. I would recommend doing all your research and becoming thoroughly familiar with the issue before seeing a doctor. No matter how badly your hair is falling out, no doctor is going to give you the miracle pill that will start your hair growing again tomorrow anyway.
2 • Listen to Your Body • You may well have other symptoms that you don’t even realize are part of the underlying reason for your hair loss and these additional symptoms could very possibly point you in the right direction for a remedy. I had probably 75% of the symptoms of low ferritin levels as wells as symptoms associated with thyroid issues, and none of the three completely different types of doctors I saw recognized them as signs of what could possibly be the real problem. It can get complicated.
3 • Find a Good Doctor • Steps 1 and 2 will hopefully prevent you from running willy-nilly from doctor to doctor, spending money at every turn and becoming increasingly frustrated. It is extremely important to find a doctor(s) who understands hair loss and this can be very, very difficult. I have found most of them to be completely useless when it comes to this problem. It is an issue that is not always easy to diagnose and, to make matters worse, may have multiple, underlying causes.
In my opinion, the first doctor I went to, the dermatologist, should have at least recommended basic blood tests and then been able to understand the results enough to further direct me if necessary. Too many doctors are overscheduled and won’t spend the time required to fully investigate a hair loss issue or simply don’t have an answer to the problem and find it much easier to whip out a prescription or suggest Rogaine. And that means that you, the patient, will end up with a band-aid rather than a solution.
You may know that you are losing hair but unless the loss is very visible, your concerns may be viewed as hysteria over nothing. Steel yourself for the fact that some doctors are actually jerks, I know of no other way of putting it. If a doctor belittles you and tells you that your hair loss is all in your head (versus on your head), walk out of the appointment. I went to the dermatologist two times and almost walked out of the second appointment. You are not losing your mind, are most likely in an emotional state over your hair loss and do not deserve that kind of treatment. Finding a doctor who understands hair loss will prevent this from happening.
Beware of the hair “specialists” who appear, at first glance, to be the Holy Grail for all who have hair loss. Some recommend hair transplants to every patient despite the actual reason for the hair loss.
4 • Improve Your Health • While going through the first three steps, make every effort to improve your basic health. If you drink a cup of coffee for breakfast, slam a soda for lunch and then microwave your nightly meal, you should expect to have health problems. Your body requires certain nutrients, and if they are not present for a long period of time, the resulting symptoms, which can include hair loss, will eventually make you aware of the fact that something is amiss.
Realize that everyone’s body is different. Some women, especially when young, may be able to have a ferritin level of 20 and still maintain healthy hair for years. I believe, as the iridologist said, that I had had low iron levels for a very long time until the deficiency finally caught up with me, exacerbated by the stress that I was going through.
5 • Be Patient • This part is probably the hardest! One’s immediate inclination is to try everything that appears to be a solution – all at once. Trying multiple remedies won’t enable you to know which one works. Hair doesn’t grow on anyone’s schedule - it takes time.
Resources I have found to be helpful and not aimed at selling you either a product or surgical procedure are:
- American Hair Loss Association: a legitimate organization that provides a wealth of information regarding hair loss. It “is the only national, non-profit (…) charity dedicated to educating the public, healthcare professionals, mainstream media and legislators about the emotionally devastating disease of hair loss (…)” and its members are physicians who deal with hair loss issues on a daily basis. Their website also recommends numerous other books and organizations that might be helpful.
- Women’s Hair Loss Project: a blog created by a woman who went through devastating hair loss herself. Her website has a lot of information and is very helpful if you would like to connect with other women going through the same thing.
- The Hormone Help Center / Geoffrey Redmond, MD: although never having spoken with this doctor myself, his name came up repeatedly on forums with rave reviews. His website does recommend one of his books but also gives a wealth of other information.
Don't Give Up!
In the words of Dr. Geoffrey Redmond:
“Alopecia is one of the most disturbing and at the same time, most neglected of female […] problems. It is sad that so many women who desperately want help are told that nothing can be done, that they must just learn to live with it. However, the cause can usually be determined and there are treatments which usually help. The knowledge exists; why the medical profession ignores it is a mystery to me. If you have alopecia, do not let the common medical pessimism demoralize you.”
Read the rest of this series:
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