Does PCOS Cause Hair Loss?

Can PCOS Cause Hair Loss?

Yes, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can cause hair loss in women. Usually it is caused by an imbalance in hormone levels - in particular an imbalance in the male hormone androgen (women have male hormones too). Your doctor may refer to your hair loss as androgenic alopecia or male pattern baldness. So what are the signs of PCOS hair loss?

• You are shedding more than 150 hairs a day.
• Noticeable thinning of the hair, it appears less full than it used to.
• Hair becomes patchy so you start to notice the scalp (particularly on the sides and crown of the head).

pcos hair loss picture
PCOS Related Hair Thinning

How Is It Treated?

Treatment options include:

Minoxidil (Rogaine), the only FDA approved treatment for male pattern baldness in women. It is used topically on the scalp. It needs to be used for at least 3 months before results appear and it has to be used continually thereafter.
Anti-androgens (Finasteride, brand names: Propecia and Proscar), to counter to the effects of hair loss. It works by blocking androgen getting into cells. This helps both with hair loss and hirsutism (excess body hair). It can cause headaches and depression and you will need to take the contraceptive Pill to avoid pregnancy to prevent accidental exposure to a developing baby.
Spironolactone (Aldactone): This drug was originally developed as a treatment for high blood pressure, but was found to be effective in slowing down hair loss. Although it is not FDA approved for this purpose your doctor may recommend it. It usually takes 12 months to notice any benefit from the therapy. It should help prevent further hair loss but it is not usual to see regrowth of hair that has already been lost. It also helps to treat other PCOS symptoms by reducing skin oiliness, acne and excessive facial hair.
Metformin (Glucophage): This drug was developed to treat people with type 2 diabetes. Although metformin is not FDA approved for treating PCOS, it is often offered to women with the condition. Studies show it is effective in halting hair loss and reducing abdominal obesity, hirsutism and amenorrhea. It can cause considerable tummy upset, particularly diarrhea, but this can be controlled by reducing the dosage.

Important Notes

1. If you have not been diagnosed with PCOS but have noticed thinning hair - don't automatically assume you have PCOS. There are lots of other potential causes, including hashimoto's disease, stress, lupus and side effects of certain medications (antidepressants, heart disease meds and hypertension drugs). Or there may be no underlying cause, it could simply be genetics. Talk to your doctor about testing for possible causes. Read: Testing for PCOS
2. Not all women with alopecia or excess facial hair have PCOS or raised androgen levels. Conversely not every women with PCOS will have alopecia or hirsutism.

Related Questions
Treatment or cure: Can PCOS be cured?
Weight gain: Can I lose weight with PCOS?
Severe stabbing pains: Can PCOS cause pain?
Tiredness and exhaustion: Does PCOS cause fatigue?

Readers Stories

When I was 23 I was losing my hair for 9 months solid. There was thinning all over my head. My doctor tested for thyroid and iron levels and diagnosed me with telogen effluvium. But it was still going on, so I went to another doctor and asked her to test for PCOS. She said my left ovary was enlarged with a cyst but didn't think it was PCOS. Still not satisfied I went to another doctor and she finally diagnosed me. I'm taking Rogaine and starting to show a bit of fullness in my hair again.
Karen, Ohio.

I have PCOS but fortunately never had problems with my hair. It falls out a little when I brush it, but nothing major. On the other hand I had major hair on my chin and side burns. I took care of it with electrolysis and by taking the contraceptive pill. It's so important to find a good doctor. It took me 3 changes of doctors before I finally found one that diagnosed me and showed some concern.
Sarah B, Chicago.

• Need more information? See: Guide to PCOS
• Got another question? See: Womens Health Questions

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WOMENS HEALTH ADVICE: ABOUT QUESTIONS ON FEMALE HEALTH
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