Hair Loss Can Be A Sign Of A Thyroid Problem

by Mary Shomon

When you think “thyroid,” you may have in your mind someone with an enlarged neck, or bulging eyes, or who is very overweight. And while these exaggerated symptoms may be associated with some cases of thyroid conditions, the majority of thyroid patients will never have those more obvious symptoms. In fact, if you have a thyroid condition, you’re more likely to notice too much hair in your brush, or in your drain, or on your pillow.

What is the thyroid, what does it do, how do you get diagnosed? These are all issues that I’ll be tackling here as as I focus on the thyroid- and hormone-imbalace related aspects of hair loss here as a guest expert blogger for the American Hair Loss Association, which is run by hair loss guru — and my colleague and friend — Spencer Kobren.

You can read more about my background here at the AHLA Blog.

In the meantime, let’s start with the thyroid itself. It’s small, about an ounce, shaped like a butterly, and wraps around the trachea, behind and below the Adam’s apple area. And it’s your body’s metabolic engine, producing hormones that deliver energy to your cells. The thyroid can become overactive — hyperthyroidism — and that can cause many symptoms, including weight loss, anxiety, and…hair loss. And the more common thyroid problem is hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid, which can cause many troublesome symptoms, including weight gain, depression, fatigue, and…yes, hair loss.

I’ll be focusing on thyroid symptoms at greater length in future posts, but if you have fatigue, depression, anxiety, unexpected weight changes, sensitivity to temperature extremes, diarrhea and/or constipation — among other symptoms — accompanied by hair loss, it’s time to at least rule out a thyroid problem.

And the type of hair loss can be telling as well. A unique and very specific type of hair loss that can occur in hypothyroidism is loss of the outer edge of eyebrow hair. This is almost always a thyroid sign, and always warrants followup with your physician.

Also pay attention to these hair-related signs that are more common in thyroid patients …

* Hair loss not just from the head but the body (i.e., underarms, arms, legs)
* Hair that breaks easily
* Hair that has a change in texture, including becoming thinner, finer, coarser, rougher, brittler, or more strawlike
* Hair that easily tangles
* Hair that changes its qualities, and no longer will hold a perm or a curl

About the author: AHLA contributing editor Mary Shomon is a nationally-known thyroid patient advocate, and author of the “Thyroid Guide to Hair Loss.” Learn more about Mary Shomon

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

George October 14, 2007 at 8:53 am

It would be great to see some additional info regarding the last paragraph – which of these hair behaviors is usually related to hypo and which to hyper thyroidism?

Fay Southworth January 22, 2010 at 3:07 pm

Dear Doc Oz or To Whom This May Concern,

Hello! I have a question that I’d like to ask, that I am desperately hoping someone would be able to help me find answers to in resolving a most alarming and disturbing matter that’s being going on, with devastating results, for FAR too long!!!!

To give you a little background about myself, I am a 35 year old Stay-At-Home mother of five children. My husband and I use to live in the Denver area for a little over 8 years, before moving up into the mountains of Colorado. (Altitude approx 8,110 ft.) Where we have been residing at for the past 8 years, to date.

For the past 8 years now, my daughters and I have all been experiencing unexplainable hair loss! No matter what we try, so far, we just cannot seem to find ANY answers out there to help resolve this ONGOING problem. I can tell you that it has truly been taking it’s toll on us and to be perfectly honest with you, it has been deeply affecting my self-esteem about myself, over the past several years!!!! … So much so, that I find myself crying almost daily! No matter how many tests we’ve had done, we just cannot seem to find any solutions and have been doing nothing, but constantly running into dead-ends!

The tests we’ve had done include: Having our water tested by water professionals, the “Pueblo City-County Health Department Laboratory” and by another lab that I currently can’t remember, but would be happy to find that info out for you, if you need it. We’ve also had a ‘top of the line’ quality water softener installed, about 2 years ago, because our PH balance levels was so high and due to the Hard Water problems we noticed. (We were even noticing our fish in our aquariums, being affected by the water and dying.) I also just recently had blood work done to test for any signs of Thyroid problems. … Which they found no problems with that either.

One important thing that I feel I should note, is that I have never experienced hairloss in my life, UNTIL we moved here. The results were IMMEDIATELY after we moved in. If that wasn’t odd enough, I also noticed immediate hairloss in BOTH my oldest daughters hair too and not in the remaining children, which are all boys. (At the time, my daughters were only 5 & 4 years old.) I also witnessed changes in our hair, such as texture change. It became very dry, straw-like hair, tangles, including hairloss by the handfuls… Enough to fill a quart size bag daily, and the loss was falling out from the scalp. We’ve also been experiencing baldness in the front hairline area.) All these symptoms almost sounds like Thyroid problems, but yet there was no indication from the blood work I had done, that I had any Thyroid problems. Plus, coincidentally enough, this hairloss was occurring in BOTH my daughters at the SAME exact time we “coincidentally” moved into the house. Is it possible that altitude could be a contributing factor?

I have found no answers as to what is causing our hairloss! All the tests we’ve investigated and tired has still been to no avail, and just seem to be so odd and bazaar to us. There has been no change and no resolutions to correcting this problem, so far. Is there any suggestions that you might have for me or ideas as to what this problem may be caused from?! We are truly distressed by what is taking place and would greatly appreciate any help and/or advise you could give us!

I greatly appreciate and value all your time you’ve allowed me to express, concerning the details to this situation. I anxiously look forward to hearing back from you to your earliest convenience!
Thank you so very much!

Fay Southworth

Chris February 11, 2010 at 2:17 pm

Thank you for the helpful information here on the website.
I started losing my hair about six months ago. It is exactly as is described here, brittle, tangles, thin…. I used to have thick hair, but now I don’t have enought to even support a barrette or ponytail. Today I noticed I had lost almost all (except for just a few) hairs on my arms and legs too. I just called my doctor, and she recommended I come in for a thyroid test. What is involved with identifying this problems? Are thyroid problems hereditary (my son just lost his thyroid –it burned out , and he is now taking meds)?
Thank you again for your information and advice.

arthur jennings July 1, 2010 at 8:38 am

I have anxiety, some depression, fatigue , hair loss on legs , has become patchy and severe allergies. I had blood work done and the pituitary gland was not right. What is the problem?

Linda August 24, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Because I’m on thyroid medication, I’d also like to know which of the symptoms Ms. Shomon describes above relate to Hyper and which to Hypothryroidism. Perhaps I’m taking too much thyroid? I have very little hair on my body, but I’m older and postmenopausal and I thought that was the reason.

This article brings up as many questions as it answers. Could you be more explicit? Thanks.

Marie August 25, 2010 at 8:22 pm

Comment To: Fay Southworth – I would recommend having the house tested for radon. In addition, I believe many doctors are disputing that the blood tests are not sufficient. You can test for a thyroid problem at your home. Webmd has the instruction of how you can do this. I just started taking Iodoral because I believe I have a Thyroid issue and my blood test are normal but I’m losing hair on the outer edges of my legs, I have very thin eyebrows, I have been tested positive for iodine deficency and the doctor told me my iodine was completely depleted. I’m praying that the iodoral works and I’m following up with a physician. Being very careful to take a small dose and pay close attention to sympthoms. I’m going in and telling him what to do and not send me away with no explanation. I heard Dr. Brownstein’s book on iodine is very informative. Seems like a lot of information on the internet is implicating iodine deficiency to breast cancer. Hope for the best of you and your family…. Blessings.

brittany November 27, 2010 at 5:18 pm

my hair has been shedding since september 2009. at first i didn’t worry much, it was only coming out in the back, but soon “whatever” that is on my scalp quickly covered my entire scalp. i started seeing a dermatologist a few months later since my hair started getting a bit thin. i was told my hair fall was falling out because of my dandruff problem that created a “rash” on my scalp. the dermatologist gave me ketaconazole shampoo and lotion to apply to my scalp twice a week. after using the products for five months i noticed i my dandruff was completely gone but my hair was still getting thinner and thinnner just about daily. around mid august i became pretty frustrated with my problem and accidently used too much ketaconazole shampoo on my hair which resulted in having a bad allergic reaction. i started getting a red rash on the back of my neck and black dots covering the edges of my entire scalp, a few days later i was able to see my dermatologist and while i was there i was told my condition had gotten “better”. from september 2010 up untill now i have been on anti-fungal pills (that havent worked) and dermasmoothe (which seemed to make more hair fall out to this day). i’ve tried using tea- tree oil shampoo’s on my scalp but all that scrubbing only makes even more of my hair fall out, so i’ve discontinued washing it. i’ve also tried pouring apple cider vinegar mixed with some essential oils on my scalp but it didn’t help me one bit. nowadays im not using or taking anything for my scalp, i don’t brush or comb it anymore and leave it up in bobby pins that has tangled it….ALOT.i haven’t given up on restoring health back to my scalp….its just that im not sure what to do at this point. i’ve noticed that “baby hair” would grow back around the edges of my scalp, but soon fall out. when my dermatologist saw this
two weeks ago he said it had gotten “better” again, but i disagree. i’ve recently discontinued seeing that dermatologist because i simply felt like a guinea pig. everytime i had gone in there he told me something different in regards to my scalp. (alopecia, scalp psoriasis,etc) and that
just left me confused and even more worried. none of my questions were ever directly answered
and even though the “patches” on my scalp were expanding, he still had claimed it
had gotten “better”, which frustrated me greatly. on the fourteenth of december i’ll be seeing a new dermatologist, hopefully he’ll examine my scalp more and run more tests unlike the last one did. i really don’t have much patience left, i don’t really want to cut the rest of my hair off or go bald. my hair is still a bit thick, but i don’t know how long it will be like this. I’m still convinced its a rash thats not being treated properly…..any opinions. ?

*sorry for any typo’s, im pretty distressed about this.

Melonie March 17, 2011 at 8:24 am

I have anxiety, depression, fatigue, hair loss around the edges and my hair has become thinner, when I wash or comb my hair it comes off in my hand. I had a thyroid check in January 2011 and was told it was fine.

What other health problem could be the cause of the above symptoms?

Roxana March 17, 2011 at 4:29 pm

I suspect my thyroid is not functioning well, but twice in the last few years, the blood tests have come up perfect. I have the loss of the outer eyebrow hair, my arms have lost their hair, I exercise everyday for over three hours (running 40 minutes and walking over two hours every single day without exception) and I am still chubby. I am a vegan, so I eat quite healthily. I also have a bradycardia (slow heart) arrythmia, and suffer asthma. Sometimes i have days when I lack energy despite taking vitammin supplements, and I am prone to catching in fections in under my crowned teeth. My feet are also very cold at night and I can’t find a way to warm them up. I do take bronchial dialators and antihystamines on a regular daily basis. I am also allergic to iodine and most food that are high in iodine such as strawberries.

Last summer my period was absent during 4 months and I suddenly lost 7 kilos, then my period returned and I have already gained 5 on those kilos. The blood test sais somethn about my hormones having been un balanced and that explaining the lack of menstrual cycle those 4 months.

Is it possible that the tests are not detecting a possible thyroid problem. Is there anything I should be suggesting my doctor to do?

Roxana March 17, 2011 at 4:30 pm

I forgit to add that my hair has always been thin, but the last few years it doesn’t seem to grow past my shoulders because it breaks off. Also the skin on my hands reminds me of soft papermaché.

Evelyn April 26, 2011 at 12:14 pm

My 4 year old daughter was diagnosed with alopecia about a year ago. She has lost most of her hair and eyebrows. At the same time she experienced this she also had a major growth spurt and went from a size 3/4 to a 6x. Now that I have stumbled across this I am wondering about a thyroid issue and will be checking with her pediatrician.

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