While modern life can often result in a hair raising experience or two, doctors often field questions about whether stress can cause hair loss.
Hair loss, which affects 70 per cent of men and 50 per cent of women at some stage of their lives, is usually related to a genetic or medical condition.
However, lifestyle factors such as stress can have as bearing on hair loss conditions, in particular for people with a genetic predisposition to it, says immediate past President of the Australasian Society Dr Jennifer Martinick.
“People often come in to see me who are finding that all of a sudden their hair is falling out all over the place,” Dr Martinick says.
“This sudden hair loss rather than a gradual hair loss is often due to stress.
“After talking to the patient for a while I usually find out that they are going through, or have been through a trauma, such as a relationship breakdown.
“Sometimes conditions such as alopecia areata or telogen effluvium can be aggravated by stress.
“People often blame modern life for stress related hair loss, however it has been around for a long time. Hence, the expression, it was so intense I was tearing my hair out.”
Dr Martinick says stress related hair loss can affect both men and women. However, when a male patient – particularly a man over 35 – presents at a surgery with hair loss it can be mistakenly assumed that they have male pattern baldness. Because of this assumption a man may not be offered the broad range of tests given to a woman with female hair loss.
Dr Martinick says female hair loss patients referred to her are requested to ask their general practitioner for a comprehensive series of blood tests. The blood tests required are: FBC – full blood count, Se Ferritin, TSH- Thyroid Stimulating Hormone, BSL – Blood Sugar Level, FSH – Follicle Stimulating Hormone, E2 – Estradiol & ESR.
Further background is sought to ascertain how long the patient has been suffering hair loss, if the hair loss is noticeable to other people, if it is falling out by the roots or breaking and if the loss is patchy or generalised.
Dr Martinick says she also asks patients if there has been any trauma, stress, fever, major operations, child birth or medication in the last two years. It is also important to find out if the patient has a family history of hair loss. Many patients often come in to see her during the recovery phase and all they need is reassurance that their condition will improve.
“If it is chronic we might talk about making any lifestyle changes to alleviate the stress,” Dr Martinick says.
“Of course in some situations, such as someone who may be caring for a disabled or terminally ill person, the changes cannot be made that simply.
“There are some cases where medication and counselling may be helpful.
“We also consider food supplements and adjunctive therapies to assist relaxation.”