Medication Induced Hair Loss

There are a significantly large number of medicines that are known to have hair loss as one of their side effects. While it may not happen to everyone using the medicine, there are some people who might suffer. Doctors or pharmacists often miss telling you about the side effects, or they just won’t mention hair loss. But it is important to find out, especially if you have a family history of baldness.  Below are some major types of hair loss induced by medication discussed by Dr. Sangay Bhutia of Hair & Senses – One of the major and leading hair transplant clinic in Delhi India:

The main types of hair loss induced by medication are –

  1. Telogen Effluvium

Medicines cause hair loss by interfering with the normal cycle of hair growth. To understand how medicines can do that, it is important to understand the hair growth cycle. The first phase of the cycle is – anagen or the phase of active hair growth that lasts about 3 to 4 years. The next phase is telogen or the resting phase that lasts about 3 months. After telogen, hair starts falling out and is replaced by new hair.

Some medicines induce a condition called – ‘telogen effluvium’ – which causes the hair follicles to go into their resting phase, making it fall earlier than it should. Telogen effluvium usually starts a few months into any medication, and not immediately.

  1. Anagen Effluvium

This condition occurs when there is abrupt hair loss in the anagen phase of the hair cycle. It affects actively growing hair by preventing the hair producing matrix cells from dividing normally. Anagen Effluvium usually starts within few days or weeks into medication and is common amongst patients undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.

As chemo medicines kill cancer cells in the body, they can also damage healthy cells like the hair matrix cells. The anagen phase of the hair cycle has the highest proliferative activity, and chemotherapy can impair the proliferative activity of the hair follicle. Any damage to the hair producing bulb matrix at this time will cause weakening of the partially keratinized hair shaft, leading to the narrowing and breakage.

Chemo induced hair loss can be prevented by using a technique called scalp hypothermia. Scalp hypothermia involves using ice packs before and after chemo sessions to cool off the scalp and making it difficult for the medicines to reach the hair follicles. The cooling constricts the blood vessels and can reduce the amount of chemo reaching the hair follicles.

Some medicines that cause hair loss are –

  1. Male hormones – Men taking testosterone can face Androgenic Alopecia or male pattern baldness.
  2. Vitamin A – Acne medication derived from Vitamin A, like Isotretinoin can cause hair loss.
  3. Oral contraceptives
  4. Antibiotics
  5. Antidepressants
  6. Anticonvulsants or epilepsy medications
  7. Anticoagulants or blood thinners
  8. Thyroid medications
  9. Chemotherapy medications
  10. Female hormones – Oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy can lead to hormonal changes that can result in hair fall.
  11. Antibiotics and Antifungals

It is very important to discuss potential side effects while taking any medicine, and especially those that are known to cause hair loss. Usually hair loss induced by medication stops once you stop the medicine, but if it doesn’t, you might have to be treated for hair loss.