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Hair Loss in Women May Trigger Anxiety

Review on January 24, 2008

Hair loss can occur during menopause due to hormonal fluctuations or increased stress, but is not necessarily indicative of any serious physical problem. However, an article published in the British Medical Journal presents new research which suggests that the psychological implications of hair loss (including emotional trauma, anxiety and depression) can be extremely serious.

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Hair loss in women is medically known as "alopecia": a chronic, inflammatory dermatological disorder affecting the hair follicles which causes hair loss on the head and/or body. The causes of alopecia various, ranging from stress, to hormonal disorders, to unknown causes. Although a large body of medical literature explores this condition, very little focus is placed on the emotional effects of hair loss.

In order to investigate the emotional consequences of hair loss, investigators Nigel Hunt and Sue McHale reviewed articles about hair loss in women from a multitude of sources going back to 1980. The authors discovered that hair loss can have acute emotional consequences for women.

Hair tends to be a vital part of female self-identity and self-esteem, and sudden hair loss can be extremely damaging to the woman's self-image, causing anxiety and depression. Some women have even reported emotions like intense grief upon losing their hair, such as they would feel after losing a loved one. Women suffering from alopecia areata, when only patches of hair are lost, experienced fewer emotional side effects than women with alopecia totalis, where all the hair on the head is lost.

The psychological consequences of hair loss in women can lead to family, social and work-related issues. 40% of women report marital difficulties because of their hair loss, while 63% report problems related to their careers. Psychological disorders are also more frequent in women with alopecia than in the rest of the population.

Women suffering from hair loss should seek medical help not only for the problem itself, but for the possibly harmful emotional effects of this disorder. Therapy and cosmetic cover-ups like wigs have proven to be useful tools in combating the anxiety and depression often associated with hair loss.

Sources:
  • Hunt, Nigel, and Sue McHale. "The psychological impact of alopecia." BMJ 331 (22 Oct. 2005) : 951-953.