Help save my hair!?!
November 8, 2009 6:24 AM   Subscribe

Post-surgery hair loss? Anybody have experience with this? How long does it last? Does it grow back on its own? Do I need to see a doctor?

I'm female, 25 years old. I had surgery about three months ago, and my hair has started falling out rapidly. To the point that I'm losing more hair in a day than I would naturally over the course of a couple weeks. My ponytail is already smaller. I don't see any spots, but I do have long hair.

My surgery removed part of my small intestine, but my vitamin levels are okay and I'm injecting those that I can no longer absorb naturally. So i don't think deficiencies are at fault. It appears that the stress from surgery can cause hair loss, and I'm pretty sure that is the case here. They say it happens 3 to 4 months after, and that's pretty much on schedule with what I'm experiencing.

I'd really love to hear some personal experiences about this. I'm trying not to worry or be too self-conscious, but I'm losing what seems like tons of hair and I'm starting to panic lol. What was your experience? How much hair did you lose? How long did it last and is there anything I can do to make it stop sooner? Is a doctor needed or is this just going to resolve on its own?
posted by gilsonal to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Did your surgeon say anything about hair loss at any point? Given the fact that your surgery means you cannot absorb certain vitamins, and you are presumably under the care of a doctor for the aforementioned vitamin shots, I would call said doctor's office and ask. Just call, tell them what's going on, and ask whether you should be concerned and when you should be seen about this. They may be able to move up your next appointment without much of a fuss.
posted by zachlipton at 6:32 AM on November 8, 2009

I had noticeable hair loss after surgery for ruptured appendix a few years ago. I had long hair and was alarmed to find so much of it in the brush each morning starting a few weeks after the surgery. My regular hair stylist said it was quite common after surgery, and would improve over time, which it did. Overall I lost maybe 1/4 inch from my hairline on my forehead. Otherwise my hair was back to normal within a few months.

(Male, was late 30s at the time.)
posted by valleys at 6:45 AM on November 8, 2009

I lose hair every time I've put my body under stress (weight loss, surgery, pregnancy) and yes, it usually does happen 4 months or so after an 'event.' Hair loss and regrowth is cyclical, once it finishes falling out, it will come back over time. Are you patchy at the temples? Try parting your hair further over. Stop putting your hair in a ponytail, that will just stress it, and use a wide-tooth comb, don't comb from the top down. Try to be gentle with your hair and you will make it through this.

(I also started using "natural" shampoos and stopped skipping my multivitamin, which may or may not have done a thing, but it did make me feel slightly better.)
posted by pinky at 7:00 AM on November 8, 2009

Check your MeMail.
posted by the littlest brussels sprout at 7:15 AM on November 8, 2009

My mother had surgery to remove her burst appendix, and several destroyed bits of her insides that were taken out by the appendix. Pretty big surgical event, and she nearly died of sepsis.

A great deal of her hair fell out, and it all came back over the next year or so. She panicked, as well, but her doctors assured her it would come back, and it did.
posted by Coatlicue at 7:18 AM on November 8, 2009

This happened to me: About 5 years ago I had abdominal surgery and my hair started falling out immediately afterword. I had thick waist-length hair. The way it was explained to me is that the anaesthesia puts your body in a state of suspension, where only the most important functions such as circulation and breathing are maintained. All biological processes such as digestion, hair growth, etc. which aren't immediately necessary for survival are put temporarily "on hold." As a result, the hair goes through a temporary start/stop growth state in the follicle. When you come out of the anaesthesia and your body functions return to normal, many of those hairs who went through the start/stop will fall out because the follicle restarts the growth process and makes a new hair.

Anyway, my hair loss lasted about 6-8 months where big handfulls were coming out in the bath and on the brush. My ponytail went from almost too thick to get an elestic around, to about the thickness of my husband's thumb in the space of a couple of months. I was very worried about it, but it never got to the point that it was visibly noticeable. I asked a lot of friends and nobody could tell it was any different by looking at it. It felt much thinner to me when I ran my hands through it, and I had some "peach fuzz" growth at the top of my forehead/hairline when it started coming back after a couple of months. I have quite wavy/semi-curly hair so I went in an had it shortened (they took about 9 inches off) to just over shoulder-length which helped boost the volume a lot. The curlyness also helped disguise the thinness. But it all grew back, and is totally normal now. So you may want to consider a haircut which will take some weight off it and help out the volume. Also, if you have wavy hair, I highly recommend a good gel (I use Aveda Brilliant) applied when wet then blow-dry upside down with a diffuser-- it really helps a lot. But don't worry, even though you know it's thinning, I betcha nobody else does.
posted by cuddles.mcsnuggy at 7:22 AM on November 8, 2009

Hair loss after surgery is really common. It's supposedly due to the anesthesia. I started to lose a lot of hair three months after surgery. It was really shocking (and annoying!) but it stopped after a month or so. It was really only noticeable to me - I'd guess I lost about 30%. And it all grew back.

Of course, I had another surgery six weeks ago, so I guess I'll start losing it again around Christmas.

Anyway, don't panic. It'll come back. You'll have a ton of short hairs that will irritate the heck out of you at the hairline and in your part. I use a smoothing gel to keep them from sticking up and making me look weird and fuzzy.
posted by elsietheeel at 8:01 AM on November 8, 2009

I also just remembered that my nails changed as well. A few months after the surgery there was a noticeable ridge on each one of my nails where they became considerably thinner. I actually found it quite fascinating to watch this ridge progress to the end of each finger until it finally got cut off - a real lesson in how quick/slow your nails grow. Similar to my hair, my nails returned to normal within a year.
posted by valleys at 8:20 AM on November 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Please don't panic. Happened to me after major surgery lasting several hours. The hair loss was significant, I panicked, the hair loss stopped, I kept panicking, then eventually I started seeing the short hairs start to fill in near the roots and I breathed a sigh of relief. You'll be annoyed and your hairstylist will be frustrated once all the hair that's growing back reaches the 3-4in mark. That's about it.

Oh, and for the next couple weeks you might have to re-read all these answers every time you brush your hair.
posted by tigrrrlily at 9:43 AM on November 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You are describing what may be a classic case of telogen effluvium. For more information, just throw that into google and you'll get plenty of reassurance.
posted by drpynchon at 12:59 PM on November 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

YES! It was terrible. The first time, I actually shaved my head and declared that battle lost.

I have also read, as someone else mentioned, that it is due to the effects of the anesthesia.

My mom swears by making a cutting up and boiling bitter melon to make an awful-tasting tea that "flushes out toxins" when you drink it every few days. I don't actually believe this at all, but much less hair fell out for me during my most recent surgical go-arounds. I also took less morphine & codeine post-surgery; this probably has more to do with it, but I wouldn't compromise my comfort just for hair (if you are still on pain meds).

Recently, I have also begun taking biotin, which has had amazing effects. Not only the hair on my head, even my eyelashes are longer. (Of course, this means more frequent shaving everywhere else).
posted by lesli212 at 4:40 PM on November 8, 2009

Another data point here: my grandmother, mid-70s, had several major surgeries in April of this year related to her large intestine, developed pneumonia, sepsis, nearly died, hospitalized for 1 month and spent another in a physical rehab facility, doing well now. Hair loss started a couple months after she went home (July-ish); she said one morning large chunks came out when she ran her fingers through her hair after she woke up. Had some fun with a wig for a bit. To my knowledge, she never spoke with her doctors specifically about this and just pretty much waited it out. When I saw her last month, the hair loss had really begun to reverse and I could barely tell that this had occurred. So, nthing what everyone above is saying: no need to panic. Hope this helps.
posted by jroybal at 9:28 AM on November 9, 2009

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