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New test is helping women with baldness

September 10, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Experts say hair loss is like any condition or disease, knowing early can make a big difference. Twenty-five percent of women suffer from some form of female pattern baldness. The only proven treatment works best if given at the onset. Now, a new test may help women take action before their hair thins out for good.Danielle Ducharme started out with full, lustrous locks. Then in her late teens, she started to notice her tresses started to thin out.

Now at 25-years-old, she wonders how long it will be until she goes bald.

"It's horrifying. I go to bed at night sometimes thinking, you know, crying myself to sleep, you know. imagine having to wear wigs for the rest of your life," said patient, Danielle Ducharme.

A new DNA test called Hair DX can help women like Danielle learn about their hair -- through their genes.

"I just want to know how much worse it's gonna get," said Ducharme.

The test is just a simple swab on both cheeks. three weeks later, the results will let a person know if they are at risk of significant hair loss before the age of 40.

"The biggest benefit of this genetic test is that we can predict something into the future. so if we know that a person will be losing her hair we can treat it early to stop further progression," said Dr. Robert Leonard, Leonard Hair Transplant Associates.

Dr. Leonard says a person generally doesn't notice she's losing her hair until fifty-percent has already fallen out.

"So if we catch this before they really notice too much thinning, we can treat it early, keep the hair on their head and not have to worry about it so much," said Dr. Leonard.

Danielle hopes others take advantage of this test -- helping women hold onto their hair and in some cases, their self-esteem.

Web Extra Information:

BACKGROUND:

Most men resign themselves to the fact they might bald, but how many women need to worry about losing their hair? The Hair Loss Learning Center says hair loss affects 21 million women in the United States alone. Baldness occurs when hair falls out and new hair doesn't take its place. Normally, hair grows at an average rate of about half an inch per month for two to six years, then rests and then falls out. Soon after that, a new hair begins to grow in its place.

At a given point in time, 85 percent of your hair is growing and 15 percent is resting, according to the National Institutes of Health. Unlike men, women with female pattern baldness can begin losing their hair at any age through 50 or later, may not be genetically predisposed to hair loss and may not fall prey to the recognizable thinning over the top of the scalp.

CAUSES:

The cause of female baldness is not well understood, but is associated with genetics, aging and levels of endocrine hormones. In particular, androgens, or male sex hormones, are associated with hair loss. As in men, the most likely cause of hair loss is androgenetic alopecia, or an inherited sensitivity to the effects of androgens on hair follicles in the scalp.

Other causes include trichotillomania, or compulsive hair pulling; alopecia areata, a disorder that causes patchy hair loss ranging from diffuse thinning to extensive balding with "islands" of retained hair; triangular alopecia, or loss of hair in the temporal areas that sometimes begins in childhood; scarring alopecia, or hair loss due to scarring of the scalp area typically involving the top of the head; and telogen effluvium, a common type of hair loss that takes place when a large portion of hair shifts into the "shedding" phase. Telogen effluvium can be hormonal, nutritional, drug associated or stress-associated. Menopause can be associated with both scarring alopecia and telogen effluvium.

TREATMENT:

Female pattern hair loss can begin as early as the late teens to the early 20s in women who have experienced early puberty, says the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery. If left untreated, this type of hair loss can progress to a more advanced form.

Treatment is also recommended for women whose self-esteem is damaged by hair loss. The only drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat female pattern baldness is minoxidil (Rogaine). For women, the FDA recommends the two percent concentration. Minoxidil may help hair grow in 20 to 25 percent of women, and in the majority may slow or stop the hair loss process. Another option for women suffering from baldness are hair transplants.

Hair transplants involve removing tiny plugs of hair from healthily growing areas and placing the hair in balding areas. The procedure usually requires multiple sessions and can be expensive. In addition, it can cause minor scarring and carries a risk of skin infection; however, results are often pleasing and permanent.

DETECTION:

In order to effectively treat baldness, experts recommend a physician's diagnosis. It is important to catch and treat baldness as early as possible to prevent further hair loss. A new genetic test may help women treat baldness before its effects even show. It's called HairDX and through it doctors can predict whether or not a woman will have significant hair loss. After swabbing the inside of your mouth, the doctor sends the sample off to the laboratory for testing. Three to four weeks later, the results are sent back. The test costs about $150.


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