When someone is told they have the medical condition Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), this often helps to explain a wide variety of puzzling symptoms ranging from weight gain to wildly fluctuating menstrual cycles to hair loss. And while it can be a relief to finally know what’s been going on with the body, one American writer says that a diagnosis comes with a whole new set of problems.
Erin McCoy, writing for The Mighty website, explains that she first started losing hair almost a decade ago. She was suddenly struck by how wide her side-parting looked and how much of her scalp appeared to be peeking out in various spots on her head. “Anxiety quickly gripped me in the chest,” she writes. “It felt like a fist was squeezing my lungs. Overwhelmed by embarrassment and fear, I wanted to cry.”
Around the same time, she started to notice other strange things happening with her body, including rapid weight gain, acne and hairs on her neck and lips – as well as the complete cessation of her periods. After a whole year like this she finally plucked up the courage to visit to a doctor.
Diagnosis not always easy
PCOS affects millions of women worldwide but it is not always easy to get a diagnosis – as Ms McCoy would go on to find out. It is thought that between five and 10 per cent of women live with the condition, which has no cure – though it can be managed with the right balance of lifestyle changes and medication. Continues below…
The syndrome occurs when women produce too much testosterone in their ovaries and while symptoms are different for everyone (which explains why a diagnosis is not always straightforward), thinning hair is one of the common ones.
Women with PCOS can lose hair due to the stress the condition places on the body – even before it is diagnosed. Additionally, an adverse reaction to medication prescribed to help manage the condition, such as hormonal contraceptive pills which are often offered to help regulate a patient’s menstrual cycle, can also lead to hair thinning.
Either or both of these factors may kickstart the temporary hair loss condition Telogen Effluvium. This causes diffuse shedding from all over the scalp which tends to become noticeable around three months after it has been triggered. Although the condition itself tends to last no longer than six months, it can accelerate the common, permanent hair loss condition, Female Pattern Hair Loss in women with an existing genetic predisposition.
What to look for
Women who were already experiencing female pattern hairloss before any telogen effluvium kicked in will generally notice all-over shedding, with more rapid hair fall than before. The areas around the top of the scalp, particularly along the parting and at the temples – which are the areas affected by genetic hair loss – may appear particularly affected. This is because there are two conditions affecting those areas at once.
For those who only had an underlying genetic predisposition towards hereditary hair loss but had not seen any signs of hair thinning, they are likely to notice a few common symptoms. In addition to the overall hair thinning which may appear to come on suddenly, causing a drop in hair density, it is likely that once this shedding subsides, they will still see specific areas of concern that they may not have done prior to the telogen effluvium. If female pattern hair loss has been triggered then thinning temples, a wider-than-normal parting and a general decrease in hair thickness around the top of the scalp is all completely normal. Many women first discover this when trying to put their hair into a ponytail and finding it feels thinner than before.
Treatment for Telogen Effluvium is possible, on its own, as is Female Pattern Hair Loss treatment, though it is important to visit an expert to ascertain exactly what is causing the hair fall so that a treatment course can be tailored accordingly. It is also possible to create a bespoke hairloss treatment course to address both conditions simultaneously, where this is an issue. This is usually done by combining an appropriate formulation of high strength minoxidil – a topical medication – with recommended hair growth boosters.
For Ms McCoy, it took several years to get a correct diagnosis, her self-esteem having plunged ever lower as a succession of doctors pointed towards her weight as the source of all her issues. “I was in a loop of agony that began with me crying during my morning shower and ended with me crying myself to sleep at night,” she writes. Once diagnosed, she says she felt a mixture of relief and sadness: relief that she finally knew what was wrong with her, sadness because the reality of knowing what her condition was was frightening.
Multifaceted and complex
“It’s hard to know how to tackle something that’s so multifaceted and complex,” she writes. “Eating healthy and exercising has helped me keep my condition under control, but lifestyle changes haven’t been enough.” Contraceptive pills almost caused her to have a stroke, she says, and while other drugs do a wonderful job of clearing up her skin and reducing her hair-related issues, they can also lead to periods that last for months on end.
The article is nothing if not honest, and vividly explains the writer’s struggles to come to terms with PCOS, her appearance and worries about how she is viewed by society. There is light at the end of the tunnel, however, and Ms McCoy appears to have turned an important corner.
Listing her qualities at the end of the article – which include a sense of humour, a love of traveling with friends, a first-class academic record and “gorgeous eyes that are the colour of the ocean during a storm” – she finishes with the words: “How in the world could some missing hair stand up to any of that?”
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.