In order to answer this, we need to look at the different types of hair loss.
First up is male pattern baldness. This tends to be a genetic condition and is related to family traits and old age. With this form of hair loss – called androgenic or androgenetic alopecia – hair usually recedes along the hair line moving backwards, or spreading from the crown.Usually, it follows a similar pattern to either your father or one of your grandparents. There is also a condition known as female-pattern baldness, where hair thins on top of the head.
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The other, major form of hair loss is alopecia areata. This is thought to be caused by problems with your immune system and can, unlike male pattern baldness, appear and disappear. However, while the immune system appears to be the main cause, genetics can also play a part with some people more susceptible to it than others. It can appear any place on the head or even in the beard and starts off as a small bald patch. Apart from this, there are usually no other symptoms, although some have reported mild redness, mild burning or an itchy feeling on the bald patches. After a bout of the problem, it can take hair around a year to grow back.
Can stress cause hair loss?
Stress does not cause male pattern baldness, but it has been connected with alopecia areata.
Normally, the immune system fights against diseases, viruses and bacteria by producing white blood cells and antibodies. In autoimmune disease – which alopecia areata is thought to be – the body mistakes parts of your body as a threat and kick-starts the immune system.
In alopecia areata, the white blood cells gather around the hair follicles and hamper their ability to make hair by causing some mild inflammation around the root. This causes hairs to become weak and fall out.
Normally, a hormone called corticosterone regulates this inflammatory response. However, it has been found that stress alters the effectiveness of this hormone.
Moreover, it was found that high levels of corticosterone actually increase the number of cells that cause the damaging inflammation compared to those that inhibit it.
Other causes of hair loss
While stress can be a factor, there is a commonly held belief among scientists that the majority of hair loss comes from your genes.
Alopecia areata can also be a result of other autoimmune diseases like an overactive thyroid, diabetes or vitiligo.
Other causes of hair loss include skin problems, medical treatments like chemotherapy, illnesses and dramatic changes to your diet.
Luckily, treatments and solutions exist for those wishing to regain control over their hair loss. See our top hair growth tips, or visit our Hair Loss Clinic page for information on available treatments.