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I'm Losing My Hair (Part I)

Posted Nov 20 2011 12:00am
I apologize for the long periods between posts. This year has been a difficult one with all sorts of unpleasant surprises.

Just a few weeks after my photoallergic reaction (see previous post ), I had two long weeks of severe gastroenteritis with bouts of nausea and vomiting (and a little diarrhea). I had so much constant nausea that family and colleagues at work asked if I was pregnant (I wasn't). I became so weak from the illness that at one point, I could no longer go up and down the stairs in our home and my husband had to carry me. I was going to write an entire post on this experience, but more recent developments have come up that I feel are more important to write about.

My post title is not exactly cryptic. I'm losing my hair. I have gone through periods of excessive hair loss in the past, but doctors have minimized the issue when I've mentioned it, so I never seriously pursued it because I had more pressing issues to deal with. Their reasoning has been that I was probably just too stressed about something or another. (Don't get me started about doctors disregarding patient concerns...I might use some choice words that are not very family friendly.)

The first time I remember experiencing hair loss was around 2002-ish. I am pretty sure it was due to a poor reaction to the medication mesalamine, something I had been prescribed for non-specific colitis. After an initial "it's your imagination" experience with the prescribing doctor, he did some digging and found that hair loss (along with the other disturbing side effects I was experiencing, including tremors and extreme muscle weakness) could be one of the side effects. I stopped the medication, and the hair loss eventually subsided.

The next time I remember discussing hair loss with a doctor was in mid-2010 when I was taking all sorts of anticonvulsant (i.e., anti-epilepsy) medications after having been MISdiagnosed with epilepsy. I told the neurologist that I thought I was losing unusual amounts of hair and was concerned it was the medications he had prescribed. He told me it didn't look like I was losing my hair and that any hair loss was either normal or from the stress of the diagnosis. (By the way, this is also the doctor who MISdiagnosed me epilepsy and prescribed a medication that caused me to have a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction.)

In early 2011, I mentioned the hair loss to my endocrinologist. I can't remember her response, but she obviously did not seem to think it was an issue because my thyroid results were normal and there was no follow up. 

Well, this time the hair loss is worse than it's ever been. Handfuls come out in the shower, and our floors are covered in my hair. On the upside (if there is an upside) the hair loss is diffuse, so the untrained eye may not be able to detect the thinning. I, however, know what my hair is supposed to look like and how thick my ponytail is supposed to be.

I'll admit, there were days I wasn't sure if I was actually losing my hair at an unusual rate or if I was imagining things.  I wanted to make sure I had proof that I was losing my hair before going to a doctor because I didn't want to deal with another doctor who didn't take me seriously.  That's when I got scientific. I looked up estimates on how many hairs a day lost is normal, and I decided to try to catch as many of my hairs as possible and count them. Different sites quote different amounts, but the "normal" range seems to be anywhere between 50 and 150 hairs per day.

I counted every hair I could catch for four days. I got most of the hair from my brush, pillow, in the shower (at least whatever didn't go down the drain), and off the floor after drying. Here are my totals
Day 1: 236
Day 2: 151
Day 3: 231
Day 4: 190

These numbers don't even include all the other "random" hairs that might fall out throughout the day. I could no longer deny my hair loss. I debated between scheduling an appointment with an endocrinologist or a dermatologist. I ended scheduling with a dermatologist in a medical school dermatology department that listed "hair loss" as one of their specialties.

I was armed and ready to defend my reason for my appointment as soon as the dermatologist stepped into the exam room, fully expecting her to tell me it didn't look like I was losing my hair. She completely disarmed me when she immediately said she could "really see it."

I wasn't sure if I was relieved that she believed me or devastated that it was really happening.

Here is a chart that shows degrees of female hair loss. According to WebMD , it's called the Savin Scale. I estimate that my hair loss is around I-3.



Here's my head (it is difficult to get the lighting just right so as not to have a big glare on my scalp...)

As I mentioned above, the hair loss is diffuse, so it's difficult for the untrained eye to see the loss at this point. I am sad to say that I am pretty sure I have lost about 50% of my hair volume.

In my next post, I'll discuss my actual appointment, tests done, preliminary results, and emotional fallout.


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