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Thyroid Disease and Hair Loss

The thyroid gland is located in the base of the neck on both sides of the lower part of the larynx (voice box) and is shaped like a butterfly. It produces thyroid hormone in response to stimulation by a hormone from the pituitary gland. The thyroid hormone acts throughout the body to regulate metabolism. (1)

Thyroid diseases can be broadly divided into the following categories:

    * Overproduction of thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism)

    * Underproduction of thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism)

   *  Benign (noncancerous) thyroid disease

    * Thyroid cancer

Diagram of thyroid gland formed around the larynx

 

When it comes to hair loss and thyroid disease, underproduction or overproduction of the thyroid hormone can sometimes lead to rapid hair loss; and is one of the main identifying symptoms of that disease.

“Some people actually say this is the worst symptom of their thyroid problem — this thinning hair, large amounts falling out in the shower or sink, often accompanied by changes in the hair’s texture, making it dry, coarse, or easily tangled. Interestingly, some people have actually written to tell me that their thyroid problem was initially “diagnosed” by their hairdresser, who noticed the change!” (2)

However, your head is not the only place you might lose hair due to thyroid disease. A symptom unique to hypothroidism is hair loss on the outer edge of the eyebrows and a thinning or loss of body hair is also possible. (2)

Thyroid disease carries with it different side-effects, depending on whether it is hyper (overproduction) or hypo (under production). It should be noted that Graves’ Disease accounts for 85% of all cases of hyperthyroidism.

Common early symptoms of Hyper and Hypo thyroid disease are: (3,4)

HYPERthyroid symptoms:

  • Weight loss
  • Increased appetite
  • Nervousness
  • Restlessness
  • Heat intolerance
  • Increased sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent bowel movements
  • Menstrual irregularities in women
  • Goiter (visibly enlarged thyroid)
  • may be present

HYPOthyroid Symptoms

  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Cold intolerance
  • Constipation
  • Weight gain (unintentional)
  • Depression
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Thin, brittle fingernails
  • Thin and brittle hair
  • Paleness

For those who suspect they may have a thyroid disease, they should immediately consult their family physician. And, in the case of hair loss, the patient should meet with a dermatologist. During that consultation, your dermatologist might find another reason for your hair loss besides thyroid disease.

Treatment for thyroid disease involves carefully regulated doses of thyroid hormone. Too large of a dosage may cause unwanted side-effects so doctors are cautious when prescribing initial treatment. The dose is gradually increased until the level of hormone in the patient’s blood returns to normal. Only then may thyroid hair loss begin to reverse.(5)

One thyroid expert cautions that some thyroid medications can cause hair loss.(2)

“First, if you are hypothyroid and taking levothyroxine (i.e., Synthroid) as your thyroid hormone replacement, and still losing hair, you may need to take action. Prolonged or excessive hair loss IS a side effect of Synthroid for some people. Note: Many doctors do NOT know this, even though it is a stated side effect in the Synthroid patient literature, so don’t be surprised if your doctor is not aware of this.”

Summary:

Treating thyroid disease means keeping your hormones in balance and stabilized. During treatment, hormone levels can possibly rise and fall due to many different variables and hair loss can return. Those who are just beginning treatment are cautioned to be patient as it can take 3 to 6 months to see hair regrowth. This is normal due to one’s hair growth cycle.

 

Sources:
(1) Thyroid Disease, MedlinePlus Encyclopedia, 2004
(2).Ten Things You Can Do To Stop Hair Loss With Thyroid Disease, Mary Shomon, 2005
(3) Hyperthyroidism, MedlinePlus Encyclopedia, 2004
(4) Hypothyroidism, MedlinePlus Encyclopedia, 2004
(5) Thyroid Hair Loss- Causes And Possible Solutions, Myhairlosstreatments.com