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Does thyroid disease cause hair loss?

April 5th, 2017 by Stephanie Hall

Whether you’re male or female, you most likely have a very special relationship with your hair.

You can deny it all you want, but I bet you’ve spent more time than you’d care to admit smoothing down that stubborn strand of hair with gel or getting an unexpected bicep workout tying (and retying) your hair into the perfect ponytail.

Taking a look through your Facebook timeline, Twitter feed and Instagram reel will soon tell you that us Brits are growing incredibly obsessed with our top-knot trestles and lusciously loose locks, so it’s not surprising that hair loss is one of the most common sources of anxiety among men and women treating hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.

Understanding how thyroid disease causes hair loss can help you understand how best to care for your hair in a way that will prevent (or reduce) hair loss as much as possible, but you should also keep in mind that most hair lost to thyroid disease will grow back within a few months of treatment (albeit sometimes with a different shade and texture).

Echo-NHS-Healthcare-Woman-Pulling-Brown-Hair

What causes hair loss for hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism?

Thyroid disease tends to cause hair loss in one of three ways:

1) Hormone Imbalance

Whether your body produces too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism) or too little thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism), your hair can stand a higher risk of thinning or falling out if you have a severe thyroid condition.

When your body produces too little thyroid hormone, your hair tends to thin out across your scalp, whilst taking on a finer texture.

In a similar fashion, too much thyroid hormone tends to result in hair loss that spreads across the scalp, making your hair thinner and less full-bodied. (In the most severe cases, hyperthyroidism can result in hair loss that extends beyond the scalp to the lower regions of the body.)

2) Thyroid Medication 

Perhaps even less common than hair loss that is caused by hormonal imbalance, the British Thyroid Foundation has recognised that thyroid medication can contribute towards hair loss in men and women diagnosed with hyperthyroidism.

The British Thyroid Foundation has listed carbimazole and propylthiouracil as two thyroid medicines that can cause an even spread of hair loss across the scalp, but the organisation also notes that:

“It may be very difficult to tell whether the hair loss is due to the effects of the previous overactivity of the thyroid or the anti-thyroid drugs. In all probability the anti-thyroid drugs are not the cause and it is unusual to have to seek alternative treatment for hyperthyroidism.”

3) Autoimmune Disease

According to NHS Choices, people who have been diagnosed with hyperthyroidism are more likely to receive a diagnosis for alopecia areata.

More commonly known as alopecia, alopecia areata is an autoimmune disorder that causes more aggressive hair loss than that caused by hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.

Resulting in patches of baldness on the scalp (and elsewhere on the body), hair loss caused by alopecia differs from that caused by thyroid disease in that it is more severe and more concentrated, while often appearing in a circular pattern.

If you notice patches of hair missing from your scalp, as opposed to an even thinning out of your hair across your scalp, you may want to consult your doctor to ask about getting tested for alopecia.

Echo-NHS-Healthcare-Thinning-Hair

How can I combat hair loss if I have hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism?

In most cases, sticking to the medication that your doctor prescribes you is the easiest and most effective way of combatting the symptoms of thyroid disease.

However, if you take carbimazole or propylthiouracil and you’ve noticed your hair thinning or falling out more aggressively since you started treatment, you may want to consult your doctor to speak through alternative treatment options.

It is possible that your medication may have coincided with a natural drop in your hair growth cycle (a drop known as telogen), and that your thyroid medicine may not be to blame for your increased hair loss. But speaking to your doctor will help determine the cause of your hair loss and whether or not your medication is adding to your symptoms.

Alternatively, there are plenty of self-help techniques you can use to keep your hair in the best condition possible and to promote re-growth, and Echo has listed some of these options below.

1) Treat your hair with love and care

A note for those of us (male and female) who tug at our hair a little too aggressively when brushing through our roots or combing through our ends, you should aim to wash, brush and comb your hair as gently as possible if you’re trying to combat hair loss and promote healthy growth. (Using a wide tooth comb tends to help prevent split ends and hair breakage).

2) Ask your doctor about your dosage

Thyroid UK states that levothyroxine can take around 7-10 days to take effect within the body and warns those with hypothyroidism that:

“Some people do see improvement in two weeks but for many it can take several weeks and even then, only some of the symptoms will improve in the beginning. If you have been ill for a very long time, it can take many months before you are back to normal.”

Likewise, esteemed pharmacist Mr Michael Stewart has said in relation to the hyperthyroid drug carbimazole that:

“it can take 4-8 weeks of treatment for your thyroid hormone levels to come down to normal and for you to feel the full benefit of the treatment.”

This delay in the effect of your thyroid treatment means that your doctor will only be able to monitor how well you’ve been responding to your medication after sufficient time has passed. If your symptoms have not gotten any better, you doctor will most likely consider re-adjusting your dosage after getting back the first round of results from your first course of treatment.

Though your doctor will likely bring up the issue of adjusted dosage as and where necessary, it doesn’t hurt to make the first move and ask your doctor for their thoughts on your dosage if you feel your medication hasn’t made your symptoms better.

3) Try a minoxidil lotion (IF your doctor approves)

NHS Choices list minoxidil lotion as a possible treatment for hair loss, highlighting the fact that the treatment is suitable for both men and women and that it is available to buy in pharmacies without a prescription.

HOWEVER, as the British Thyroid Foundation reminds us, it is vitally important that you “get advice from your doctor or specialist” before trying any treatment other than that prescribed by your doctor, in order to avoid interactions or unintentionally making your condition worse with alternative therapies.

Though NHS Choices list minoxidil lotion as a viable treatment for general hair loss, it may be the case that this treatment will not be a viable option for all persons living with hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.

Therefore, it is essential that you check with your doctor before using any form of minoxidil to treat hair loss caused by thyroid disease.

4) Stay patient and try waiting for your hair to grow back naturally

Though it can be incredibly frustrating and emotionally draining just waiting for your hair to stop thinning (or falling out) and to start thickening up, the NHS notes that telogen effluvium (or hair regrowth) “usually improves without treatment in six months”.

While the thought of waiting for your medicine to kick in after 2-8 weeks, or waiting for your hair to correct itself naturally after 6 months might seem unbearable, it can sometimes be the most effective and least invasive form of treatment.

The NHS also has a list of ‘Treatment options for hair loss’ available on their website, which weighs up the pros and cons of each treatment suggested. (But please note that this list is not specific to hair loss caused by thyroid and some treatments may not be suitable for treating hair loss caused by thyroid disease.)

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