There’s no denying that hair loss negatively affects the quality of one’s life. It can be emotionally distressing and physically exacting. The imbalance of thyroid hormones is one of the many reasons why hair loss might occur. This butterfly-shaped organ, located in front of the neck, is responsible for the production of hormones triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4).
Together these regulate many functions of the body and ensure our normal, healthy growth. However, an imbalance in the levels of these hormones affects the body in different ways. One symptom of the dysfunction of this organ is thyroid hair loss.
What is Thyroid Disorder?
To understand thyroid hair loss, you need to know the role that the thyroid plays in the human body. From regulating our basal metabolic rate, hair growth, body temperature, muscle contraction, neural development, reproduction, skin homeostasis, and even intelligence, the importance of thyroid hormones cannot be undermined.
It’s the imbalance in the thyroid hormones that results in:
If we take a look at its prevalence rate, hyperthyroidism affects 5 out of every 1000 women while hypothyroidism, 3 out of every 1000. Its incidence is greater among females. This condition is rather dangerous when it develops during pregnancy because it has been found to cause:
- Premature birth
- Death of the fetus
- Impairment of neuropsychological development
Although iodine deficiency has been popularised as the reason for this disorder, there are many other factors such as pregnancy, age, gender, medications, genes, etc.
The underproduction of thyroxine and triiodothyronine by the thyroid gland results in hypothyroidism. Initially, its symptoms might be barely noticeable. However, one might experience:
- Weight gain
- Hair shedding (hair becomes dry and rough)
- Decreased intellectual functioning
- Weight gain
The most common cause for its development is Hashimoto’s disease, which is an autoimmune disease that damages the functioning of the thyroid gland. The exact reasons for its development are still unknown, although it is believed that genetics might be involved. It is also thought that the presence of certain viruses or bacteria might be responsible.
As iodine is responsible for the production of T3 and T4, its deficiency can also cause hypothyroidism. Other than that, thyroid cancer, inflammation of the glands, and even taking certain medications can affect the production of these hormones.
The overproduction of hormones thyroxine and triiodothyronine results in hyperthyroidism. Its symptoms include:
- Weight gain
- Abnormal menstrual cycle
- Hair loss (with hair becoming extra soft and thin)
- Upset bowel movement
- Increased heartbeat
- Swollen thyroid glands
As the production of hormones increases, the metabolic rate also rises. Furthermore, musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, and reproductive functions are negatively affected.
A common reason for hyperthyroidism is Graves’ disease, which is also an autoimmune disorder. In this, the cells of the thyroid gland start producing greater quantities of T3 and T4. Other reasons can be excessive intake of iodine, inflammation or infection of the thyroid gland (thyroiditis), and development of thyroid nodules.
It is also possible that treatment of one kind of thyroid disorder, such as hyperthyroidism, can cause the other one i.e. hypothyroidism. Radioactive iodine is used to treat the former, which can lower the level of thyroid hormones to abnormal levels.
Can Thyroid Cause Hair Loss?
Yes. The hormonal imbalance alone can stress the body, which can result in hair loss. However, there are also other reasons why thyroid hair loss occurs.
According to the British Thyroid Foundation (BTF), it is the severe, prolonged hypo- or hyperthyroidism that results in hair loss. Also, this kind of hair loss is diffuse, which means that it will affect the entire scalp and not just a specific region. Therefore, you’ll notice an overall thinning. BTF states that it isn’t common for people with mild, short-term symptoms of thyroid dysfunction to lose their hair.
What Does Thyroid Hair Loss Look Like?
According to the American Association of Dermatology, losing 50-100 strands of hair is normal. However, it is when you start noticing hair fall that’s more than usual, you have something to worry about. You might notice more strands of hair on the bedsheets, floor, in the hairbrush and drain.
You won’t develop any bald patch as a result of thyroid hair loss (although autoimmune conditions which result in thyroid disorder can leave you with bald patches, it’s not directly related to thyroid hair loss). Also, keep in mind this kind of diffuse thyroid hair loss won’t only affect the scalp but also your eyelashes and eyebrows.
Types of Hair Occurring Due to Thyroid Disorder
Two types of hair loss can occur due to thyroid dysfunction. That means it can result in underactive thyroid hair loss and overactive thyroid hair loss. Let’s take a look at them:
Chronic telogen effluvium or diffuse hair loss is one way in which thyroid hair loss occurs. Almost 70% of the hair will enter the telogen phase and fall out excessively from all over the scalp. This can take almost two to three months to occur. The most common reason for diffuse hair loss is thyroid disease or iron deficiency, which is why their levels should be checked.
It is caused by hormonal changes that cause shock-induced hair loss. It interferes with the normal hair growth cycle, causing the majority of the hair follicles to rest.
In the case of autoimmune disorders, the body cells start attacking the hair follicles, which can cause alopecia areata. It can be seen as a bald, circular patch on the scalp. It can also cause complete baldness. Both hyper and hypothyroidism can cause this. However, it commonly occurs in the latter.
Can Thyroid Hair Loss Be Reversed?
Fortunately, thyroid hair loss is not permanent. You have to start getting the treatment, though. A thyroid problem can exist for years without you knowing about it. So, you may be losing hair all the while.
Still, hair loss can be sudden or gradual. Once you start getting the treatment, your hair should start growing back in a matter of months. In any case, you should consult a doctor. If this condition is left untreated for a long time, it can affect your joints, heart, and even lead to obesity.
Keep in mind that in rare cases it is also possible for the medications for thyroid problems to cause hair loss. Since thyroid hair loss results due to telogen effluvium/stress on the body, this kind of hair loss occurs a few months later. The timing may coincide with your treatment for the disorder. Here, it doesn’t mean that the medicine is causing hair loss. When taking medicine for your thyroid hair loss, talk to your doctor about its side effects.
How To Take Care Of Thyroid Hair Loss?
Self-diagnosis is never the right answer when it comes to a serious illness. Many people believe that proper dietary intervention can eventually help them. While it may be true in some cases, you need to know what’s causing your hair to fall out. Only then can any treatment work.
To stop further thyroid hair loss, you first need to get treatment for the condition, which can include medications or surgery. In the meanwhile, you can do the following to better take care of your hair:
Eat Healthy Foods
You must eat wholesome foods to make sure that you do not suffer from any nutritional deficiency as you’re getting treatment for a thyroid problem. That’s because it can exacerbate your hair loss.
In addition, you need to make sure that you’re not eating too many sweets or processed foods because they can cause inflammation, worsening your health.
If you’re eating foods rich in calcium or taking calcium supplements, you must space their consumption with the thyroid medication by 4 hours as it can affect their absorption.
Be Gentle With Your Hair
Since your hair will be quite frail as a result of the condition, you should treat it gently. That means avoiding the use of straighteners, curlers, blow dryers, and chemical dyes for at least a while.
Also, when you’re brushing your hair, you should make sure that it has a wide-toothed comb so that your hair doesn’t get tangled in and pulled out of the roots easily. Moreover, you should avoid any tight, complicated hairstyles that pull at your hair.
Lastly, make sure to avoid very hot water baths. Use shampoos and conditioners that are nourishing and hydrating so that your hair doesn’t break that easily.
Be Careful About Iodine
You must take note of your iodine intake. Kelp, in particular, is high in iodine and can cause hypo- or hyperthyroidism. Iodine is also present in some supplements, so make sure that you read the ingredients before consuming them. If you’re taking any, make sure to talk with your doctor about it.
Do You Need Hair Transplant Surgery?
That depends on the severity of the condition. Hair loss due to thyroid disease is mostly temporary, although you may experience some changes in the growth pattern, colour and even texture. Mild cases of hyper or hypothyroidism do not require large-scale intervention like restoration surgery.
However, you should discuss this with your dermatologist. Depending on the kind of hair loss you have and its severity, you may be recommended this surgery. You will first have to get treated for the thyroid condition to get the surgery, though.
If you are suffering from hypothyroidism hair loss or hyperthyroidism hair loss, you should make sure to get in touch with your dermatologist. It is possible to get these thyroid disorders treated. Mostly, hair loss results from stress, but an autoimmune condition can also cause alopecia areata. This kind of hair loss is usually reversible.
Reviewed and Approved by Dr. Hassan Soueid.