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When Hair Does A Vanishing Act

If you’ve ever counted the hairs in your comb or shaved your head to disguise the fact that you’re losing your hair, read on. Even though male-pattern baldness (MPB) accounts for more than 95 percent of hair loss in men, experiencing it can have a devastating impact on a man’s quality of life. Balding and hair loss can sap confidence, affect self-image, and even cause depression.

It’s a widespread problem

Male pattern baldness, also known as androgenetic alopecia accounts for more than 95 percent of hair loss in men. By age 35, two-thirds of American men will have some degree of appreciable hair loss, and by age 50 approximately 85 percent of men will have significantly thinning hair. About 25 percent of men who suffer from male pattern baldness begin the painful process before they reach 21.

A few facts and an urban myth shattered

Male pattern baldness is a genetic condition resulting in the shrinkage of the hairs in a particular pattern on the scalp. Even though male hormones – called androgens – are essential for the development of male pattern baldness, generally hormone levels are not elevated. It is an urban myth that baldness is inherited solely through a mother’s genes. Generally the onset is soon after puberty and it gradually progresses from that point on. There is some truth to the belief that hair loss is less likely if it hasn’t already started by the age of 50. In spite of popular claims, there are no supplements or lifestyle changes that will arrest the progression.

When should I start worrying about hair loss?

Almost all Caucasian men develop some recession of the frontal hairline at the temples but that does not indicate how much hair they will lose. Deep frontal loss and vertex balding – which occurs on the top of the head – also may start shortly after puberty, although for most men, the onset is a bit later. This type of hair loss is more likely to progress to balding. Unfortunately, as far as young men are concerned, there is no definite way to predict how much hair loss will occur.

Available treatments and when to start

We have three primary treatments to use today, all of which work differently, so we are able to use them in combination at the same time. They are:

It’s important to remember that treatments are most effective when started early. This complicates treatment because we cannot predict how hair loss will progress. Hair transplantation surgery remains the most radical intervention physicians can suggest. Hair transplantation surgery is effective and successful under the right circumstances. Because hair is transplanted from other areas of the head however, a completely bald man would not be a good candidate.

As if hair loss wasn’t bad enough

A footnote to facts about hair loss is an interesting bit of information that was uncovered by researchers. There is increasing evidence that early onset of hair loss correlates with increased cardiovascular risk factors such as hypertension and high cholesterol. Men who fall into this category should be counseled and screened accordingly.

All of this points to the importance of scheduling regular checkups and promptly discussing changes or concerns with your physician. Once hair loss begins there are treatments available. Just because we have limited treatments in our arsenal today does not mean something important won’t appear in the near future.

About the author: Mary Gail Mercurio, M.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Dermatology at the University of Rochester Medical Center. She is currently the residency program director. Dr. Mercurio’s clinical interests in dermatology have focused on skin and hair disorders. Dr. Mercurio sees patients at the Ambulatory Care Facility at Strong Memorial Hospital, 601 Elmwood Avenue, Rochester, New York 14642, and also at 400 Red Creek Drive, Suite 200, Henrietta, NY 14623.