Options for Treating Hair Loss
By age 50, about 85 percent of men and 50 percent of women will experience some noticeable hair loss. While there are many causes of hair loss (stress or illness, for example), genetics is by far the most common. Androgenetic alopecia, or pattern baldness, occurs in progressive stages. Unless treated, the thinning or loss of hair will continue over time. For men and women hoping to stop, reduce or repair their hair loss, there are many treatment options available today.
Men and women have a number of pharmaceutical options for treating hair loss. Some may be purchased over-the-counter while others require a doctor’s prescription. These medications need to be taken regularly to maintain the results; hair loss will recur when the medication is stopped.
Minoxidil (Rogaine): This is a topical, over-the-counter product that slows down hair loss and can regrow hair. It works best for those who are losing hair at the back of the head rather than those with receding hairlines. About two-thirds of users will see results after four to six months. It can be safely used by both men and women.
Finasteride (Propecia): This is an oral medication available only by prescription. Because of its association with birth defects, it’s only approved for use by men. About 80% of patients who take it daily will see hair regrowth in three to six months.
Spironolactone (Aldactone): This oral medication is prescribed to treat a number of dermatological conditions and has been proven to stop or reduce hereditary hair loss. Due to its side effects, it’s only prescribed to women.
Others: Several other medicines are also used to treat hair loss, including dutasteride, ketoconazole and, for women, oral contraceptives. However, the FDA has not approved their use for hair restoration.
Surgical Options for Hair Loss
Because medications must be taken continuously to be effective, some individuals who are suffering from hair loss turn to surgical options, which promise more permanent solutions. First introduced in the 1950s, hair transplant procedures have made great strides since hair plugs once gained notoriety.
Today, hair replacement specialists can create natural-looking results with better transplantation techniques. The most common procedures are follicular unit transplantation (FUT) and follicular unit extraction (FUE). When performed by skilled professionals, both surgeries result in a natural look that will accommodate any future hair loss. Depending on the patient’s hair patterns and needs, the procedure may need to be repeated several times to create the desired effect.
Even though they produce similar results, FUT and FUE do have some differences:
Follicular Unit Transplantation (FUT): During the procedure, the medical team will remove strips of tissue from the back of the scalp where active, healthy hair follicles live. The scalp is then sewn closed, which may result in a scar. These strips are then divided into tiny grafts containing one to four follicles and placed into tiny incisions in the scalp. Patients are given local anesthetic and it takes about a week for the scalp to heal from the incisions. After several months, the transplanted follicles will start growing on their own. This procedure is less costly than FUE, but more patients report pain and the recovery time is longer.
Follicular Unit Extraction (FUE): With this method, the surgeon removes individual or groups of hair follicles from the back of the head using a special needle that makes tiny, surgical incisions, which means there’s no scarring. However, this surgical technique is more time-consuming than FUT and is not suitable for all patients, particularly those with more extensive baldness or those desiring a denser distribution of hair. Patients should be aware that this is a more time-consuming surgical procedure and fewer follicles can be transferred during a single session. Recovery time from the procedure is somewhat faster than for FUT.
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