What is the thyroid and why does it mess with my hair?
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck that is situatied at the front of your windpipe. The thyroid gland is controlled by the pituitary, which is considered the ‘master gland’ of the endocrine system. The pituitary is located at the base of the brain and its principal function is to monitor and regulate the activity of the other glands. The pituitary affects the thyroid gland by producing a hormone called thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which prompts the thyroid to release T4 and T3. If there is too much T4 circulating in the blood, the pituitary reduces the amount of TSH produced, which then causes thyroid activity to slow. If there is too little T4, the pituitary increases the amount of TSH. In this way, T4 and T3 levels in the blood are kept relatively constant. If your thyroid function is out of whack, it will eithwe slow down or speed up your metabolism, causing changes throughout your body from your brain to your heart, to your weight, mood and memory! And yes, it can cause your hair to thin and fall out. Hyperthyroid is when your thyroid speeds up your bodily processes. Hypothyroidism is when your thyroid slows your metabolism down and can cause your hair loss (as well as weight gain).
In 2018, I was at a Patriots game, in the stands, cheering and jumping around when my heart decided to speed up to 260 beats per minute and not slow down. I had never had any experience before like it. After an ambulance ride and a barrage of medical tests, it was discovered that the problem was not stemming from my heart, not directly anyway eventhough I had always had regular ectopic (extra) heartbeats. The episide had been triggered by my hyperactive thyroid. So, I was prescribed a high dose of Methimazole - a drug intended to reverse the effects of hyperthyroidism, along with a beta-blocker.
The problem was, I was overdosed on it - for months - it progressively shut me down. Medically-induced hypothyroidism took my thick, healthy hair out, first at the temples, then all over. I gained almost 30 pounds with no changes in diet and with more exercise, my eyesight deteriorated. Let's not talk about the mood swings, I was tired all the time, couldn't concentrate on anything and it was awful. I chopped my hair short again and wore protective styles for months.
Once the dosage was corrected (I have been off methimazole since March), the weight started to come off and my general attitude improved. My hair has begun to grow back at the temples but is still thin. My crown is growing back fiercely. Still, I know it will be at least a year before everything gets back to where I am happy with my hair.
What to do?
If your hair is thinning, you're gaining weight or have other thyroid symptoms, go see your doctor and ask for specifically thyroid function blood tests. The results will tell you exactly what you need to know. Doctors often won't order these tests unless asked.
If your thyroid test result is within the right levels, that is great! If not, it's not the end of the world. Your doctor will manage your situation. But it is important you ask for the possible side effects of any treatment and plan for the future. And keep a close eye on your symptoms, to see if they are worsening and regularly schedule follow ups as required INCLUDING blood tests to check your levels while you are on any thyroid medication.
Self-care for Hypothyroidism
As for your hair, the hairloss is not permanent! If you take good care early, you will be able to regrow the hair that you have lost.
Check out these Nappturality Articles for information on how to care for thinning hair.
And don't forget to search the Forums!