Understanding Telogen Effluvium

While genetically linked pattern baldness, or androgenetic alopecia, is by far the most common cause of hair loss in both men and women, it is certainly not the only one.  Many patients who suffer from sudden and apparently inexplicable hair loss are actually experiencing a less common condition known as telogen effluvium.  In order to understand how telogen effluvium functions, it is necessary to understand hair’s natural growth process and how that process can be disrupted.

Understanding Telogen Effluvium

Hair follicles on the scalp do not continuously produce hair.  Instead, they progress through a regular growth cycle consisting of three stages: anagen (growth phase), catagen (transition phase), and telogen (resting phase).  During the anagen phase, which can last up to two years, new hair is formed and gradually grows from the follicle.  At any given time, anywhere from 80% to 90% of the hair follicles in a healthy scalp are in this stage.  Eventually, the hair moves to the transitional catagen phase and growth stops.  From there, the hair finally progresses into the telogen stage, when the hair loosens in the follicle and subsequently falls out over the course of 3 to 5 months.  Because approximately 15% of the hair follicles are in the telogen stage at any given time, a healthy scalp sheds anywhere from 50 to 100 hairs each day.  However this loss is typically replaced by newly growing hair and so generally goes unnoticed.

Telogen effluvium occurs when external factors disrupt this natural cycle.  During extremely stressful situations, the body can trigger a disproportionately large number of hairs to move into the telogen phase all at once.  About 3 months later, this hair begins to fall out as it would normally during this point in the telogen phase, but in significantly larger amounts than usual, causing diffuse thinning over the entire scalp.  To someone experiencing this sudden hair loss, it can seem as though hair is falling out in clumps for no particular reason whatsoever, but it is, in fact, just a result of a physiological stress that may have occurred months earlier.  Anything that can cause some form of shock to the body can potentially cause telogen effluvium, from physical trauma, such as being in a car crash or undergoing major surgery, to crash dieting that starves the body of necessary proteins.  Even significant emotional stress, like the death of a loved one or a divorce, can prompt changes in eating and sleep patterns that the body can interpret as dangerous stress, resulting in the same symptoms.  A similar condition can occur when a woman has a newborn child.  In this case, temporary hair loss may reach its peak at six months, but will typically regrow over the next year.

Fortunately, the hair loss from telogen effluvium is usually temporary.  The hair follicles are not permanently or irreversibly damaged; there are just more hair follicles in a resting state than there should normally be.  If the particular external cause that triggered the condition is short lived, the hair follicles should return to their growing state and start producing new hair fibers within six months.  In cases where a specific causal factor cannot be identified, Extra-Strength Rogaine® (5% minoxidil) or one of our custom formulated topical prescription compounds can be prescribed to minimize further hair loss and help stimulate new hair growth until the underlying trigger can be addressed.  Unfortunately, there are cases when, despite all treatment, it still takes a long time for the scalp to completely recover all the hair that was lost.  Red LED Laser Treatment with the LaserCap”¢ may be an additional way to help stimulate new hair growth.

If you have questions about the causes of hair loss and treatments offered by The Griffin Center, please visit our website and follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Google+ .  If you are interested in discussing hair loss or hair restoration options, please contact our office to schedule a consultation.