When your hormones get out of whack as a result of thyroid disease, your whole body can feel off-kilter. Your weight, your mood, and even your thinking, can be affected, and you may have a host of other physical symptoms too. Hair loss is a common side effect of thyroid disease, but it’s not a permanent problem as long as you get the treatment you need.
How Thyroid Hormones Cause Hair Loss
Your hair follicles follow a natural cycle of hair growth and resting phases. At any given time, most of your hair is growing while only a small portion of it is resting. But when changes in the body throw off that cycle, too much hair rests at one time and not enough grows, resulting in excessive hair loss, thinning hair, or balding.
Many medical conditions can cause hair loss, with thyroid disease a common culprit. Thyroid problems include both an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism) and an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism). Because hair growth depends on the proper functioning of the thyroid gland, abnormal levels of thyroid hormone produced by this gland can result in hair changes, along with many other side effects, if left untreated. When there is too much thyroid hormone, the hair on your head can become fine, with thinning hair all over the scalp. When there is too little of this hormone, there can be hair loss, not just on the scalp, but also anywhere on the body.
Ironically, taking the hormone levothyroxine to treat an underactive thyroid can contribute to some hair loss, among other side effects, but this seems to be more common within the first month of treatment and more often in children than adults. This hair loss is only temporary and will go away as treatment is continued and thyroid hormone levels stabilize.
Symptoms of Thyroid Disease
Any type of thyroid disease can cause a number of different symptoms, but they can sometimes be subtle. In addition to hair loss or thinning hair, be aware of these other symptoms:
- Changes in mood, such as anxiety, irritability, and increased nervousness
- Being unable to tolerate hot temperatures or cold temperatures
- Insomnia or lethargy and sleeping too much
- Weight changes — either weight loss or weight gain
- Abnormal menstruation
- Pain or weakness in the muscles
- Dryness in the hair or skin
- Cognitive impairment, such as having trouble paying attention, remembering, and concentrating
Thyroid function can be measured using a simple blood test, so if you notice any symptoms that could signal thyroid disease, see your doctor promptly.
Treating Thyroid Disease and Hair Loss
The good news is that once you get your thyroid disease diagnosed and the right treatment is prescribed to regulate thyroid hormone levels, the hair loss problem should resolve itself. Healthy hormone levels mean healthy hair growth.
It may take some time to find the right dosage of thyroid hormone to get your thyroid under control. If you’re uncomfortable with the look of your hair while treatment is underway, there are options to consider. Wearing a hair piece or wig or getting a new hairstyle can help camouflage hair loss as you wait for the results of thyroid treatment to begin. Ask your doctor if it makes sense to try a topical medication that helps spur hair growth like mixoxidil (Rogaine).
Thyroid disease affects many body functions besides hair growth, so be sure to talk to your doctor if you suspect that a thyroid problem could be the cause of your hair loss. Treatment will improve how you feel as well as how you look.