Hair loss is quite common in both men and women, especially as you age. Despite its prevalence, hair loss can be quite distressing to people because it hampers their self-esteem. What can also be distressing is the cause of the hair loss itself.
There are many potential reasons for why hair loss occurs. Your hair could be thinning due to natural changes in the hair follicles, nutritional deficiencies, stress and more. However, some hair loss problems can be much more severe, like thyroid conditions.
The thyroid has a surprising impact on the scalp and normally healthy hair. If you’ve already been diagnosed with a thyroid condition, or you suspect a thyroid disorder is the cause of some of your recent symptoms, here’s what you should know.
The thyroid and hair loss
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the neck. The gland is crucial for human health—it produces hormones that control the speed at which the body uses energy, as well as other organ functions.
Conditions such as hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid) and hypothyroidism (an under-active thyroid) can make the thyroid function improperly, skewing the hormone levels present in your body. Both of these conditions may affect hair loss if they are undetected and/or untreated for extended periods of time.
Certain hormones produced by the thyroid help regulate the growth of new hair from the scalp after the existing hair goes dormant and falls out. When hormone production is disrupted, new hair may not begin to grow, meaning hair is falling out but is not replaced.
Identifying thyroid-related hair loss
In order to identify whether your hair loss is related to a thyroid disorder, you’ll want to pay attention to both the changes in your hair and any other symptoms that may indicate a problem with the thyroid.
Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can cause changes in the appearance of your hair before they cause hair loss. Many people experience dry, brittle strands that do not look or feel healthy. Unfortunately, these symptoms can be caused by many other hair problems, as well.
Once a thyroid disorder becomes severe enough to affect the growth of hair, you are most likely to notice diffuse hair loss or hair thinning across the entire scalp. Thyroid-related hair loss rarely causes baldness in patches.
Additionally, thyroid-related hair loss tends to occur slowly, since thyroid disorders disrupt the growth of new hair. Thus, you likely won’t notice thinning until many hairs have fallen out and have not been replaced. Because the natural hair cycle occurs over the course of a few months, you may experience other symptoms of a thyroid condition for a while before you notice a change in your hair.
For this reason, you should also be mindful of the other physical symptoms of hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. Watching for these signs may help you identify that your hair loss is caused by something more significant than stress or aging.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism:
- Weight gain
- Dry skin
- Feeling cold
Symptoms of hyperthyroidism:
- Weight loss
- Fast heartbeat
If you notice any of these symptoms, visit your doctor to discuss the possibility of a thyroid disorder.
Generally, mild thyroid problems are unlikely to cause noticeable changes in your hair. If you’re experiencing hair loss that you believe may be related to a thyroid condition, you’ll want to have it treated right away, since it is most likely a more severe form of hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.
Thyroid and autoimmune disease
In addition to problems like hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, thyroid conditions can also be associated with autoimmune diseases. People suffering from this type of disease are more likely to develop another form of an autoimmune disease, such as alopecia areata.
This autoimmune condition can cause true balding in circular patches across the head or, in severe cases, complete balding.
Can something be done?
The good thing about thyroid-related hair loss is that it is often reversible with diagnosis and treatment of the underlying thyroid disorder. Once your hormone production has been regulated, hair growth can begin anew. Symptoms related to the thyroid should be conveyed to your doctor to achieve the proper diagnosis.
However, it’s important to be mindful of the medications you might take to treat your thyroid disorder. Some thyroid medications also come with the risk of hair loss, themselves. Speak with your doctor about which options are right for you.
Keeping your thyroid healthy through an appropriate diet can also help you manage your thyroid condition and, by extension, your hair loss. It’s important to maintain all aspects of a healthy life, including eating balanced meals, drinking lots of water, sleeping well and exercising to keep up a healthy thyroid and healthy hair.