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Our culture places great importance on hair and its appearance. Hair loss can cause embarrassment and loss of self-esteem. Your hair grows continually for 2 to 6 years, then rests for 2 or 3 months before falling out naturally. Shedding 50 to 100 hairs each day is a normal process, and each shed hair is replaced by a new hair that begins to grow out of the same follicle. Your hair grows about a 431

half inch every month, but, as you age, your rate of hair growth slows. Skin and

There are many different types of hair loss, with a number of different causes. Hair

A high fever or severe infection can produce hair loss, as can an overactive or underactive thyroid gland. Other causes of hair loss include an inadequate amount of protein in your diet, iron deficiency, or cancer treatment. Certain prescription medications—such as those for gout, arthritis, depression, heart disease, or high blood pressure—can cause hair loss in some people. Large doses of vitamin A also can cause hair loss. If you notice that your hair is falling out in large amounts after you brush or comb your hair, see your doctor as soon as possible to determine the cause.

For men, the most common type of hair loss is male pattern baldness, in which hair sheds from the top of the scalp and the hairline at the same time. Most men will experience some degree of hair loss as they get older. Thinning hair and baldness in men are usually inherited. Hair loss can be treated and controlled. Some men compensate for their hair loss by styling their hair differently or by wearing hairpieces, but there are now a number of effective methods for treating male pattern baldness.

A nonprescription medication called minoxidil is somewhat effective for regrowing lost hair. The drug does not produce results right away, but after about 4 to 6 months you may be able to see soft, downy hair in the bald areas of your scalp. The new hair may become the same color and thickness as your existing hair. Minoxidil is not effective for treating hair loss caused by anything other than hereditary male pattern baldness. If you stop using the drug, the hair loss will begin again.

Another drug, called finasteride, has been shown to be effective against male pattern baldness. Available only in pill form, the drug was originally used as a treatment for an enlarged prostate gland (see page 170). During such treatment, doctors noticed that some men regrew hair in balding areas of the scalp. The drug appears to increase the number of hairs in thin or balding areas while also slowing hair loss. You will need to take finasteride every day for at least 6 months before seeing any results. The predominant, although rare (for fewer than 2 percent of men who use the drug), side effect is impaired sexual function. Neither finasteride nor minoxidil is effective for replacing lost hair in a receding hairline. As with minoxidil, if you stop using finasteride, you will continue to lose hair. (Warning: Women who could become pregnant must never use finasteride because the drug has been shown to cause birth defects.)

Hair replacement surgery (see page 442) can restore lost hair.


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