Diffuse hair loss in an adult female: approach to diagnosis and management

Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol. Jan-Feb 2009;75(1):20-7; quiz 27-8. doi: 10.4103/0378-6323.45215.

Abstract

Telogen effluvium (TE) is the most common cause of diffuse hair loss in adult females. TE, along with female pattern hair loss (FPHL) and chronic telogen effluvium (CTE), accounts for the majority of diffuse alopecia cases. Abrupt, rapid, generalized shedding of normal club hairs, 2-3 months after a triggering event like parturition, high fever, major surgery, etc. indicates TE, while gradual diffuse hair loss with thinning of central scalp/widening of central parting line/frontotemporal recession indicates FPHL. Excessive, alarming diffuse shedding coming from a normal looking head with plenty of hairs and without an obvious cause is the hallmark of CTE, which is a distinct entity different from TE and FPHL. Apart from complete blood count and routine urine examination, levels of serum ferritin and T3, T4, and TSH should be checked in all cases of diffuse hair loss without a discernable cause, as iron deficiency and thyroid hormone disorders are the two common conditions often associated with diffuse hair loss, and most of the time, there are no apparent clinical features to suggest them. CTE is often confused with FPHL and can be reliably differentiated from it through biopsy which shows a normal histology in CTE and miniaturization with significant reduction of terminal to vellus hair ratio (T:V < 4:1) in FPHL. Repeated assurance, support, and explanation that the condition represents excessive shedding and not the actual loss of hairs, and it does not lead to baldness, are the guiding principles toward management of TE as well as CTE. TE is self limited and resolves in 3-6 months if the trigger is removed or treated, while the prognosis of CTE is less certain and may take 3-10 years for spontaneous resolution. Topical minoxidil 2% with or without antiandrogens, finestride, hair prosthesis, hair cosmetics, and hair surgery are the therapeutically available options for FPHL management.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alopecia / diagnosis*
  • Alopecia / etiology
  • Alopecia / therapy*
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / complications
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / diagnosis
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / therapy
  • Disease Management
  • Female
  • Hair Diseases / diagnosis
  • Hair Diseases / etiology
  • Hair Diseases / therapy
  • Hair Preparations / pharmacology
  • Hair* / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Thyroid Diseases / complications
  • Thyroid Diseases / diagnosis
  • Thyroid Diseases / therapy

Substances

  • Hair Preparations