Bald and stressed

I went through a stressful period at work three months ago and my hair started to fall out.

The situation has since resolved itself but I have a noticeable bald patch on the top of my head. How long do I need to wait before my hair will regrow? Or is there a chance it will not grow back? I am 32 years old and female.

>> Losing hair can be a particularly stressful experience, but I would be optimistic that you will make a full recovery.

It sounds as if you’ve had a condition called alopecia areata. This causes bald patches, usually up to the size of a large coin, where the hair is lost completely. There are usually no other symptoms and the patch is not itchy or sore.

Alopecia areata is more common in people who have a personal or family history of a group of conditions called the auto-immune disorders, including diabetes, some thyroid conditions, and some types of anemia.

Up to one in five people with alopecia areata have a family member who has also had the condition, so it’s worthwhile asking about this.

The triggers for an episode of alopecia areata aren’t clear, but some people, like you, report an episode of preceding stress.

The good news is that in the majority of cases, especially if this is the first time it’s happened, and there is only one patch, the hair completely regrows.

The hair follicles in the scalp are not damaged, and so you should start to feel new hair growth in the patch. Initially the new hair feels very fine (like a baby) and very occasionally lacks pigment so will be quite obvious.

Over three to six months this should change to your usual hair. In the meantime you should style your hair to hide the patch as this will help if it’s made you lose a bit of confidence.

If after six months you can’t see evidence of regrowing hair you should see your GP.

¦ My 80-year-old father has started to complain about a weakness and tingling in his legs, which is more pronounced in the evening time. He doesn’t want to go to the doctor, saying it doesn’t bother him much. I am worried it might be something more serious than ageing.

>> Your father’s obviously concerned enough about these symptoms to mention them to you. Many people are reluctant to attend their doctor, for a number of reasons, but in this case if your father’s symptoms are persistent I think you should encourage him to do so.

The difficulty is that symptoms of weakness and tingling are quite non-specific. It is true that muscular strength declines with age, and the less exercise you do the more noticeable this will become.

Try and encourage your father to take a walk every day, if he’s able to, and doing regular exercises at home to maintain muscle tone and power is worthwhile whatever your age.

Your father’s GP will know of any relevant past medical history — in particular, any history of back injury, or of a stroke, and whether your father is taking any medication that might affect his symptoms.

Complaining of weakness can imply a more general sense of fatigue or loss of motivation and his GP will ask about this. I would expect your father’s GP will want to ask for a number of blood tests, including a thyroid function and vitamin B12 screen.

If your father is also complaining of any localising pain, this will also need investigating, perhaps with an xray.

I’d encourage your father not to simply put his symptoms down to being 80, or say there’s probably nothing to be done at his age. I’ve heard patients say these both things and it’s not turned out to be true, so it’s wrong to assume this.

Dr Julius Parker is a GP with HSF Health Plan’s free 24 GP advice line. For more information visit www.hsf.ie or lo-call 1890 451 451


Lifestyle

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