Losing Hair After Surgery

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Everyone experiences hair loss on a daily basis. Normal hair loss is barely noticeable, amounting to less than 100 hairs per day. However, the stress of a major surgery can cause hair loss to accelerate up to three times as much in both men and women. It’s the body’s way of reacting to the trauma of the operation.

The Facts

During a normal hair growth cycle, hair grows, then enters into a resting or "telogen" period and eventually sheds. According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, "telogen effluvium" is a term used to describe hair that has been rushed into the resting state after the body suffers a shock due to major surgery. As resources are redirected to help heal the affected surgical area, the body temporarily shuts down hair production because it is not necessary for survival.

Identification

Telogen effluvium related to surgery can be distinguished from other forms of hair loss in several ways. Individuals typically begin to notice the increasing hair loss two to three months after the surgery. Hair loss after surgery is uniform, noticeable on the scalp but never excessive enough to cause a patchy appearance or complete baldness. In addition, the shed hairs all exhibit a specific pattern at the root, which resembles a white bulb.

Time Frame

Hair usually resides in the telogen phase for a period of two to four months before growth resumes. Individuals don't begin to notice the increase in hair loss when showering or brushing the hair until about three months post-surgery. Although the resting hair is being pushed out of the scalp by new hair that is already growing, it can take anywhere from about six months to a year for the hair to return to its normal fullness.

Gastric Bypass Surgery

Individuals who have undergone gastric bypass or other operations of the digestive tract designed to reduce obesity are more prone to hair loss post-surgery. This is due to the reduced intake of food in the weeks and months immediately following these procedures. The body needs an adequate amount of proteins and vitamins to maintain hair production. Protein-enhanced shakes are often recommended for these patients as a substitute until solid food can be better tolerated.

Proper Diet

Hair loss related to surgery typically reverses itself without any medicinal intervention or the need for over-the-counter hair loss tonics or treatments. However, maintaining a diet rich in protein and iron is believed to help promote and speed up healthy hair growth. Suggested foods include salmon, beans, eggs, spinach, broccoli, nuts and whole-grain cereals. Avoid foods that can inhibit hair growth, such as those that contain high levels of caffeine and fat.

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