Hair Today Gone Tomorrow

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Jerry Shapiro, MD

Dr Shapiro, an expert in hair loss treatment, provided the audience with a practical approach to treating hair loss. Dr Shapiro practices in Vancouver, Canada and New York, New York. In Canada, he sees 60-70 patients per day and 70 percent of his patients are female. 35 percent are PHL and telogen effluvium, 30 percent are alopecia areata, and 35 percent are cicatricial alopecias.

In this summary, we will provide an overview of hair loss in women with a focus on Female Pattern Hair Loss.

Hair Loss in Women

It’s important to know that at least one third of women experience hair loss and the effect of hair loss on patients’ emotions is often greatly underestimated by physicians. As a clinician, it is imperative that you spend a good amount of time talking to your patients about their hair loss and trying to assess an approximate duration of time since their hair loss began. Of note, the youngest cases of MPHL and FPHL that Dr Shapiro has seen is age eight and it happens suddenly versus gradually.  Another important step in evaluating hair loss is to assess the pattern. We should all be familiar with the Ludwig classification of Female Pattern Hairloss ranging from classes I to III. Also of importance is to address whether the hair loss is thinning or shedding. The key question for shedding is to ask “is there hair on your pillow” and “is there hair in your food.” You need to lose 50 percent of scalp hair to notice any change clinically. The next step in the evaluation is to determine whether the hair is falling out from the roots or whether it is breaking. Hair loss from the roots can be associated with AGA, telogen effluvium, or alopecia areata; hair breaking with tinea capitis, cosmetics/trichotillomania, or hair shaft abnormalities A thorough evaluation also includes taking a good family history and assessing hair care practices.

When talking to your female patients, you need to address any systemic illnesses, recent childbirth, recent surgery and any psychosocial stressors. Psychosocial stressors such as bereavement, break-up/divorce, and bankruptcy can initiate a telogen effluvium. New medications can initiate hair loss within one to three months. (Some of these medications include acetretin, heparin, interferon alfa, isotretinoin, and many more.)

Factors that might indicate an androgen excess and thus can contribute to hair loss include seborrheic dermatitis, acne, hirsutism,  and irregular menstrual cycles. Other important questions include signs of hypo or hyperthyroidism, heavy menstruation, and a vegetarian diet.

Five Stages of the Clinical Evaluation

  1. Distribution of hair loss
  2. Inflammation, scale and erythema
  3. Scarring vs. non-scarring
  4. Quality of hair shaft
  5. Pull test

There are several new diagnostic tools available for the scalp and these include dermascopy (10-fold magnification), videodermascopy (50-100-fold magnication), and folliscope which magnifies the scalp 50-100 times.

Alopecia in women can be categorized as Female Pattern Hair Loss, alopecia areata, and cicatricial alopecia: lichen planopilaris. In patients with Female Pattern Hair Loss, this is a crucial time to utilize the Ludwig Classification for FPHL.

Female Pattern Hair Loss

When assessing women with Female Pattern Hair Loss, it is important to test for any signs or symptoms of androgen excess. If there are no signs or symptoms, you can determine the class of hair loss based on the Ludwig stage. If there are signs or symptoms of androgen excess, an endocrine work-up should be performed. You may want to consider referral to either an endocrinologist or a gynecologist. From there, you can assess the Ludwig stage.

Ludwig stages I or II can be treated with topical minoxidil solution for one year. If there is no improvement, you may want to add:

  1. Antiandrogen therapy + OCA (if childbearing age)
  2. Hair transplation if donor area dense
  3. Hair prosthesis
  4. Hair cosmetics

If the patient has Ludwig stage III, a hair piece could be considered.

In conclusion, it is important to remember that patient education is crucial. There are websites available such as www.carfintl.org, www.naaf.org and www.nahrs.org.