Hair loss has several underlying causes. In this article I will describe a rare condition that causes temporary hair loss which fortunately recovers on its own. Temporary hair loss may happen to a person after suffering from stress, shock, or some other traumatic event. This condition is called telogen effluvium and is different from permanent hair loss because even though there may be a large hair loss from the scalp, the hair grows back after some time.
As I have explained earlier in an article, hair goes through three stages during its growth cycle: Growth phase or anagen, transition phase or catagen, and falling phase called the telogen. During Anagen phase, the dead cells are pushed out and new hair starts growing. Normally, about 80 to 90% of hair is in this stage. The transitional phase or catagen happens at the end of the growing stage and lasts for about one month. The Telogen or the falling phase lasts for about 3 months after which the Anagen phase or growth phase starts again.
Normally, in healthy hair conditions, 80% of the hair is in Anagen stage while 20% is in the Telogen stage. This balance is disturbed by stressful or traumatic events. Such events can be pregnancy, hormonal or metabolic changes or injuries which cause the Anagen hair to stop growing and enter the catagen phase. Illnesses, sudden changes in diet, kidney problems and thyroid can cause this condition, which disrupts the ratio of anagen to telogen and hair thinning starts.
Telogen Effluvium means that a large part of a person’s hair has gone into the Telogen phase. It is the body’s response to severe stress, shock or major metabolic changes and hormonal imbalances.
However, the hair follicles are not damaged and once the body recovers from the shock, the hair starts growing again. Telogen effluvium occurs after 3 months of the shock causing event and lasts for about 6 months. In some chronic cases, it can last longer and can go up to one year. Telogen Effluvium causes diffuse hair loss and is seen as thinning of hair but does not cause bald patches.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Telogen Effluvium can be seen as shedding of hair. The doctor will try to trace it back to a shocking incident in the patient’s life to confirm the condition. The hair becomes dry, lustreless, weak and sparse. There is distinct thinning of hair which becomes evident to the patient. The hair colour changes somewhat and the falling hair can be seen to have a small white bulb.
The doctor will go over the medical history of the patient and try to figure out a stressful event that may have caused it. The broken hair is examined to see whether it has a small white bulb. The doctor may take a sample of the hair for laboratory analysis to find out the exact cause and phase of the hair growth cycle. If related causes are suspected, medical tests may be advised, such as a blood test for thyroid or enzyme analysis.
A quick hair-pull test will determine the existence of Telogen Effluvium. The doctor takes a small bunch of hair in his fingers and pulls it gently. Usually a few hair or none at all may come off, but if the patient is suffering from Telogen Effluvium, about 10% of the bunch of hair will come off quite easily from the scalp.
Another way is to find out the amount of hair that one loses on washing it. The patient is asked to shampoo and the hair lost is collected from the sink. If the number of hair lost is more, it will show abnormal conditions of the scalp.
Usually the condition of Telogen Effluvium is corrected after about six months when the new cycle of hair growth starts. The hair that is lost is replaced by a new set of hair as the Anagen phase starts. So the condition is temporary.
Telogen Effluvium can be prevented if one maintains healthy hair through good diet and healthy lifestyles so that shocking events in one’s life do not affect the hair. Patients are advised to manage and reduce stress from their lives, have regular sleep habits, changing medicines and reduce eating unhealthy food.
Usually Telogen Effluvium solves by itself in about six months. Treatment consists of finding out the cause of stress to the body. The patient is counselled and medicines for other diseases are reduced. Medicines may be prescribed for treating the metabolic or hormonal disorders that may have caused shock to the body. A good diet and supplements of with iron, zinc, and other minerals are prescribed. Minoxidil use may be advised to encourage hair growth on the thinning areas.
People who have gone through some kind of shock or emotional or physical stress can get the Telogen Effluvium condition. Both males and females can be affected, but women experience more hormonal changes than men because of changes in their body during pregnancy and menopause. That is why women are more prone to Telogen Effluvium. Patient education, changes in lifestyles, and a healthy diet can speed up the recovery process.