Hair Loss after Surgery – Common Causes

Have you ever ran your fingers through your hair and noticed that it feels noticeably thinner? Do you look in the mirror and no longer see the density you used to have on your scalp? While it is normal to lose 50 to 100 hairs per day, sometimes certain health conditions can cause your hair follicles to not produce new hairs properly. Another cause for hair loss can be a recent surgery as surgical procedures can cause your hair follicle cycling to be disrupted. The result of these changes to the hair follicle cycle is a common hair loss condition known as telogen effluvium (TE).

Hair Growth Cycle

Hair follicles go through different growth and resting stages and the resting stage is known as telogen. This is important to note as people typically have 10%-20% of their hair follicles in the telogen stage. If it is determined that more than 20% of your hair is in the telogen stage, it indicates that you are experiencing telogen effluvium. Surgery can cause your hair follicles to stay in the resting telogen state for a longer period of time. If this is the case, you will begin to notice that your hair will start to look and feel thinner as a result of TE.

Stress and Hair Loss

hair loss caused by stressMany people suffer from stress when they know they will be undergoing a surgical procedure and that stress may carry over into the recovery period as well. Surgeries are considered to be invasive and can put your body and mind under an excessive amount of stress. When your mind and body experience a stressful event like this, hair loss can occur within 3 to 6 months. Nutrients like biotin, iron, zinc and protein are needed for hair growth. When the body is under a good amount of stress, it might not send these nutrients to your vital organs which can cause your hair to thin.

Surgery and Hair Loss

Although it is not very common, research done in 2012 showed that hair loss can sometimes be caused by the head being kept in one position for a long time during surgery. This can result in what is known as pressure alopecia. When your head is in one position for an extended period (such as several hours); this positioning can cut off the blood flow to your hair follicles. In turn, this can cause the hair follicles to not work properly in growing new hairs. It is most commonly seen in patients who go through cardiac surgery or extensive reconstructive surgery.

Some may debate that anesthesia used during surgery might be linked to hair loss as well. While it has not been proven in studies, some doctors believe that long periods of anesthesia can reduce cell division which further hinders hair follicle production. Some also believe that the use of hypotensive anesthesia can also contribute to hair loss by increasing the risk of positional alopecia.

Medications and Hair Loss

Medications that are given, or prescribed, after surgery can also contribute to hair loss. It is most likely to occur if you are allergic to any of the medications. Other types of medications that are linked to TE are anti-thyroid medications, anti-seizure medications and beta-blockers. Be sure to discuss with your doctor if you are taking any of these types of medications to determine if they might be a cause for your hair loss.

Lastly, the type of surgery and the site of the surgery you are undergoing play a big role in how your hair follicles might react post-surgery. Procedures that involve incisions made on the scalp can increase the chances of your hair follicles shutting down and going into the telogen phase for a lengthy amount of time.

How to Minimize Hair Loss from Stress

common causes for hair loss after a surgical procedureThe effects of TE from surgery cannot always be prevented but they can be minimized. Managing your stress, exercising regularly and having healthy sleep habits are all ways that can help minimize your chances of developing TE. Healthy hair follicles also come from having a healthy diet full of nutrients like iron, selenium, zinc and vitamins A, B, C, D and E. Getting enough protein also contributes to healthy hair.

Even if you are an overall healthy individual that is not lacking any of these nutrients, it still cannot guarantee that you will not suffer from post-surgical hair loss. Blood tests are available to determine whether or not you are deficient in any of these healthy hair nutrients. Supplements should also not be started until your doctor has established a deficiency. Starting on an unneeded supplement that your body is not lacking could worsen your hair loss from toxicity.

Discussing your concerns about surgery-related hair loss with your surgeon, prior to your operation, is highly recommended. This allows your surgeon the opportunity to create a plan to help minimize hair loss caused by surgery. Some surgical teams have head turning as a scheduled part of the process to prevent positional alopecia. If you are aware in advance that your procedure will be extensive and will likely be more than a few hours long, be sure to discuss the head turning options with the surgical team. It is always best to be well-informed about the risks and side-effects of any surgery.

– JM

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