One of the biggest problems that doctors often face when making a diagnosis is that multiple conditions share symptoms. This statement is certainly true of hair loss, where everything from genetics to extreme shock can be to blame.
But the hair loss of a patient in Missouri turned out to be a sign of something rather unexpected when doctors delved deeper into his case: the young man was suffering from thallium poisoning.
Having presented himself with vision problems, short-term memory loss, a rash across his face and thinning hair, the man represented something of a mystery to doctors in St Louis, and – according to livescience.com – it wasn’t until they learned of his day job that a connection was made.
The man, it turned out, worked in a chemistry lab. Armed with this snippet of information, doctors realised that his symptoms were an exact match for thallium poisoning. Tests proved this to be the case.
Part of the problem, explained Dr Enchun Liu, who saw the man during tests at the hospital, is that standard tests for heavy metals typically screen only for arsenic, mercury and lead. Once specific thallium tests had been performed and poisoning of this rare heavy metal was diagnosed, the patient was prescribed a treatment called Prussian blue therapy, which drew the thallium out of his system.
Temporary hair loss
In cases of poisoning, hair loss is not uncommon – though poisoning is naturally one of the last things typically suspected when people start losing their hair. In the case of the St Louis patient, his condition was likely to have been Telogen Effluvium – a temporary condition brought on as the body diverted its attention to fighting the poison. In cases of this nature, the hair follicles are temporarily starved of necessary nutrition for healthy growth.
Although it tends to last for no longer than 12 months and the hair should regrow naturally on its own once the cause has been addressed. There is also treatment for Telogen Effluvium available, featuring minoxidil to help spur the follicles back into action.
For those with a pre-existing genetic propensity to androgenetic alopecia, however, Telogen Effluvium can be bad news. This temporary condition can trigger male pattern baldness – or female pattern hair loss – which is a permanent and progressive condition; it can also present simultaneously causing severe shedding. Whilst genetic hair loss affects the top of the head only, Telogen Effluvium causes diffuse thinning all over the scalp.
Hair loss sleuthing
Diagnosing the cause of shedding usually requires less sleuthing: in fact you can self-diagnose some of the most straightforward ones by using Belgravia’s online hair loss condition guide. At other times, however, a higher rate of detective work is required.
This is an important part of any diagnosis so that the underlying cause which triggered the hair fall is identified and addressed. Sometimes hair loss can be symptomatic of another issue, such as dietary deficiencies, health concerns, illness or, in the case of Alopecia Areata, an autoimmune condition.
Not only are there multiple hair loss conditions, but some have a great number of contributing factors behind them. This is why, if you find that you are experiencing more shedding than normal it can be worthwhile – even just for your own peace of mind – to contact a hair loss specialist who can provide a professional diagnosis and personalised treatment recommendations.
The Belgravia Centre
The Belgravia Centre is the leader in hair loss treatment in the UK, with two clinics based in Central London. If you are worried about hair loss you can arrange a free consultation with a hair loss expert or complete our Online Consultation Form from anywhere in the UK or the rest of the world. View our Hair Loss Success Stories, which are the largest collection of such success stories in the world and demonstrate the levels of success that so many of Belgravia’s patients achieve. You can also phone 020 7730 6666 any time for our hair loss helpline or to arrange a free consultation.