The tests: A rheumatologist will examine joints and other tissues for signs of inflammation, such as heat, pain, swelling, and redness. A blood test to measure levels of anti-nuclear antibodies (ANA) may also indicate lupus. Rheumatologists will also determine if patients have four of 11 diagnostic criteria set by the American College of Rheumatology, though fewer criteria along with a skin biopsy may sometimes indicate lupus, Dr. Weinstein says.
What you can do: See a rheumatologist if your hair loss is accompanied by joint pain, fatigue, and other symptoms of lupus, which is treated with oral medications such as prednisone. If you also have a rash on the scalp, you need to see a dermatologist, who is likely to prescribe a topical cream.
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Women who have heavy periods or don't eat enough iron-rich foods may be prone to iron deficiency, in which the blood doesn't have enough red blood cells. Red blood cells transport oxygen to cells throughout your body, giving you the energy you need.
The symptoms: Iron deficiency anemia causes extreme fatigue, weakness, and pale skin. You may also notice headaches, difficulty concentrating, cold hands and feet, and hair loss. Any type of exertion may leave you short of breath.
The tests: A blood test to measure ferritin, the protein that stores iron in your body, is usually needed to diagnose iron-deficiency anemia. Your doctor may also check your blood level of hematocrit, which gauges how much of your blood is made up of red blood cells.
What you can do: Eat iron-rich foods such as beef, pork, fish, leafy greens, fortified cereals, and beans—preferably, along with foods rich in vitamin C, which enhances iron absorption. Women need 18 mg of iron a day, 8 mg after menopause; ask your doctor if you should take an iron supplement. You can also find supplements specifically for hair loss, Dr. Fusco says. Key ingredients may include biotin, silica, and L-cysteine, in addition to iron.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
As many as five million women in the United States suffer from polycystic ovarian syndrome. The condition, which can begin as early as age 11, is caused by a hormonal imbalance in which the ovaries produce too many male hormones. PCOS often causes infertility.
The symptoms: PCOS can cause facial hair growth, irregular periods, acne, and cysts on the ovaries. And while you may experience hair loss on your scalp, you may notice more hair elsewhere on the body, Dr. Fusco says.
The tests: Your doctor is likely to do a blood test to look for elevated levels of testosterone and DHEAS (dehydroepiandrosterone), a by-product of testosterone.
What you can do: Most cases of PCOS are treated with birth control pills such as Yasmin, which contains a potent anti-androgen that blocks testosterone. If you can't use birth control pills, your doctor may prescribe spironolactone (Aldactone), which also blocks male hormones. Losing weight can also help by decreasing the effect of the male hormones.
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