Hair Loss After Surgery

Hair loss after surgery can come as a shock.

In part, that's because it's something we're rarely warned about. But it's also because it tends to happen several months after the surgery has actually taken place.

In this article I'll look at the possible reasons behind this type of hair loss, and what you can do if it's happening to you.

Note: this information does NOT constitute medical advice and is given for guidance purposes only. Please consult a qualified medical professional if you are suffering from unexplained hair loss.

Hair loss after surgery

Is your Hair Loss Caused by Surgery?

Of course, you should always seek a proper diagnosis, as there are many conditions that can cause you to lose hair.

These range from low iron stores to hairstyles that cause stress on the hair.

But if you've undergone surgery within the last few months, then there's a good chance that the stress placed on your body has interrupted the growth cycle of your hair.

Your nails can be affected too...

...and you might notice them becoming more brittle and prone to breakage than usual.

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.

And whilst WE may think of our hair as a priority, it's way down the list of importance from a medical point of view.

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 3 stages of hair growth:

  • anagen
  • catagen and
  • telogen

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.

That explains why there is such a delay between your having the surgery and noticing you are losing a lot of hair.

| RELATED: Learn how other kinds of stress can trigger hair loss

Will the Hair Loss Stop?

If your hair loss is solely caused by surgery and there are no other underlying factors, then yes, it should stop.

And whilst this type of shedding may feel alarming, it's extremely rare for hair loss after surgery to result in baldness, or anything close!

The good news is that - within 6 months to a year - your hair should grow back completely.

Hair Loss and Bariatric Surgery

Whilst it's possible to lose hair after any type of surgery, it's particularly common after bariatric surgery.

This is the type of surgery that is performed on the stomach or intestines to assist with weight loss.

Some sources suggest that up to 41% of bariatric surgery patients will experience hair loss following the procedure.

If you have undergone this type of surgery, not only will your hair be affected by the stress described above, but it may be further starved of nutrients due to your drastically reduced food intake after the surgery. 

Taking this into account, along with the fact that your body may not be absorbing nutrients as well as it should, your doctor may recommend protein shakes and dietary supplements.

Postoperative Alopecia (PA) May Be Another Cause of Hair Loss After Surgery

Also known as pressure alopecia, PA is far less common and usually shows up a few weeks (rather than months) after surgery.

This type of hair loss can happen if your head is kept immobile  for a long time during surgery, or after an extended stay on an Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

Some people who experience this find that their scalp feels sore or swollen before they notice any loss of hair, whereas for others losing hair is the first symptom!

If you have undergone complicated surgery (particularly cardiac surgery) within the last few weeks, then do speak to your doctor.

Whilst this type of hair loss is reversible if caught early, it can be much more difficult - or impossible - to treat at a later stage.

Source: Pressure Alopecia

Losing Hair After Cosmetic Surgery

In some cases, procedures such as face-lifts can cause scarring in the scalp area, which can lead to hair loss.

If you have had this type of surgery, then it's very important to discuss your options with the surgeon concerned, who may suggest a hair transplant to the affected area, or surgical revision of the scar.

Tips for Dealing With Hair Loss After Surgery

Eat plenty of foods that are known to support healthy hair growth. 
You'll find a comprehensive list of them here
In particular, pay attention to your iron intake. Iron is very important for hair growth, but many of us simply don't consume enough!

Avoid braids, tight ponytails, or other styles that cause tension.
This is to prevent traction alopecia, a form of hair loss to which you may be more susceptible when your hair is weak.

Get plenty of sleep and find ways to de-stress.
Many of us are stressed without even realizing it! See this page to learn more. Of course, losing your hair can make you feel even MORE stressed. So it's worth reminding yourself that - in the majority of cases - you're noticing your hair loss a lot more than anyone else is.

If your hair loss is extreme, then talk to your doctor about using minoxidil (Rogaine).
You can learn more about minoxidil here

Consider taking biotin.
Whilst not medically proven as a remedy, some people DO find it useful in giving hair growth a boost. Visit this page for more information.

Take a look at your post-surgery medication.
Speak to your doctor to determine if any of them maybe causing the problem. As I describe on the medications page, your doctor may be able to adjust your dose or suggest an alternative medication.

Speak to your stylist.
Well-cut hair can hide a multitude of sins and removing some of the length also reduces the weight, making the hair look as if it has more volume.

Try a hair volumizer
These products are designed to give the impression of fuller hair as you wait for its thickness to naturally increase. Here are my favorites.

Within Several Months You Should Begin to See Your Hair Returning...

and whilst this is a relief, the appearance of dozens of short hair all over your scalp can be difficult to deal with. Use gel to smooth them down as best you can - particularly around your hairline - and take heart in the fact that it won't be long until your hair is back to its former glory.

I hope you have found this  page useful. If you have lost hair following surgery, please do leave a comment below, or contact me here.

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