I have had 8 surgeries related to IBD over the past six years and something that no one told me about was hair loss. Hair loss after surgery is known as Telogen Effluvium and today’s post is all about the T.E. I wrote a little about this in 2016, you can see that post here.
Hair loss after surgery
Usually around 3 months after surgery, I start to find my hair falling out. Firstly, it is more than usual in a hair brush. Then when I wash my hair I find lots more than usual coming out. I then start to find it on my pillows, coats, desk, everywhere! It is really distressing and I was shocked to find out how common it is. And how little people are told about Telogen Effluvium. This is when the stress placed on your body after surgery has interrupted the growth cycle of your hair.
As I always say, this blog is not meant to replace any medical advice and if you suddenly begin to lose your hair unexpectedly, then always speak to a medical professional. There are many other reasons why you could be going through hair loss and it’s important to rule out anything more serious.
I have had so many different hair cuts, styles and colours, it’s a running joke that people never recognise me as I can look so different. I have naturally very thick, straight, dark hair but I enjoy changing it up.
Shaving it off
But hair loss wasn’t something I thought about. So when it first thinned out and was coming away by the handful, I was terrified. But as my hair is so thick, others said that couldn’t tell. I was lucky that it thinned all over as opposed to coming out in chunks.
Last year, I found my hair getting very thin and coming out all over the place and so I decided to shave the lot off! Probably a bit drastic for some, but I have had a shaved head a few times and loved it, so off it went!
Why Does it Happen?
During times of stress, the body will send its precious resources (vitamins, minerals etc) to the areas they are needed the most. This means that important nutrients are diverted away from the hair follicles and towards other parts of the body that need them more (for example, when healing after surgery). The name of the subsequent hair loss is telogen effluvium.
Telogen Effluvium Explained
There are three stages of hair growth:
- catagen and
The anagen phase is the ‘growth’ phase, when the hair bulb forms in the follicle and grows into an actual ‘strand’ of hair.
This phase lasts anywhere from 2 to 8 years.
The catagen stage is the ‘transition’ stage. In this time, the hair stops growing and moves up in the hair follicle.
This stage lasts for about 10 days.
The telogen stage is the ‘resting’ phase, and this is where the hair stays until it’s shed.
This stage lasts for around 3 months.
When the body undergoes the physical stress of surgery, it enters the ‘telogen’ stage too soon, and is shed at the end of the stage, 3 months later.
What causes telogen effluvium?
What causes telogen effluvium
Increased hair shedding in telogen effluvium occurs due to a disturbance of the normal hair cycle.
Common triggers of telogen effluvium include childbirth, severe trauma or illness, a stressful or major life event (such as losing a loved one), marked weight loss and extreme dieting, a severe skin problem affecting the scalp, a new medication or withdrawal of a hormone treatment. No cause is found in around a third of people diagnosed with telogen effluvium.
Will the Hair Loss Stop?
Telogen effluvium usually resolves completely without any intervention as the normal length of telogen is approximately 100 days (3 to 6 months) after which period the hair starts growing again (anagen phase). However, depending on the length of the hair, it may take many months for the overall hair volume to gradually return to normal. Telogen effluvium can return, especially if the underlying cause is not treated or recurs, and would be called chronic telogen effluvium if lasting more than 6 months.
It’s good to know that it’s extremely rare for hair loss after surgery to result in baldness. There is normally no treatment for telogen effluvium as the hair will start growing back once the trigger is removed. Medication does not speed up this process.
Where I’m at now
So as my hair started to grow back last year, I then had another surgery. Though I didn’t notice much hair loss after this one, I felt like my hair was getting back to some health. Weirdly, it has grown back much curlier than before though!! But this past week as I am now 3 months post op again, I am noticing more and more hair falling out in the shower. So I think it is all starting over again.
The emotions around hair loss
We talked about hair loss over on the So Bad Ass facebook page so you can head over to read other people’s experiences.
I know that for some, hair loss can be absolutely devastating. Just another kick in the teeth after a long journey of illness. For many women, hair feels like a big part of their personality and femininity.
Despite having shaved my head several times, the hair loss does really bother me. It is the lack of control of it all. It is scary to wash your hair and pull your hand away and see a big handful of hair there. As my hair is thick, others say they don’t notice and so it can feel a little like I am being dramatic when I say I feel upset by it. But whether anyone else sees it or not, it still is very real to me.
Have you been through hair loss, either through Telogen Effluvium or for another reason? How did you feel? What did you do to manage the situation? I’d love to hear your experience.