Abnormal hair loss

Also known as non-hereditary or temporary hair loss

Abnormal hair loss is non-hereditary and usually temporary. It can be due to many causes, including nutritional deficiencies, disease, medications, reactions to hair products, stress, (also for women, pregnancy).

About half of the population experiences normal hair loss by the time they are aged 50 years. However, people who suddenly notice their hair shedding in large amounts after combing or brushing, or whose hair becomes thinner or falls out, should consult their doctor.

Possible causes of hair loss

Possible causes and risk factors for abnormal (temporary) hair loss include:


When a woman is pregnant, she does not lose as much hair as usual. However, after she delivers her baby, many hairs enter the resting stage of the hair cycle. Within two to three months after delivery, some women may see large amounts of hair coming out in their brushes and combs. This condition usually corrects itself.

High fever, severe infection, flu

From four weeks to three months after a person has a high fever or a severe infection or flu, he or she may be shocked to see a lot of hair falling out. This condition usually corrects itself but it may require treatment.

Thyroid disease

Both an overactive and underactive thyroid gland can cause hair loss. The hair loss associated with thyroid disease can be reversed with proper treatment.

Inadequate protein in diet

Some vegetarians, people who go on crash diets that exclude protein, and those with severely abnormal eating habits, may develop protein malnutrition. When this happens, a person's body will help to save protein by shifting growing hairs into the resting phase. Massive hair shedding can occur two to three months later. Hair can then be pulled out by the roots. This condition can be reversed by eating the right amount of protein.


Some prescription drugs can cause temporary hair shedding in a small percentage of people. Examples of such drugs are blood thinners, some drugs used to treat gout and arthritis and some medications for heart problems.

Cancer treatment drugs

Certain types of drugs used in chemotherapy will cause hair cells to stop dividing. Hair shafts become thin and break off as they exit the scalp. This can occur one to three weeks after chemotherapy. The patient may lose up to 90% of their natural scalp hair. The hair will grow back after treatment ends.

Birth control pills

Women who lose their hair when taking birth control pills usually have an inherited tendency towards hair thinning.

Low serum iron

Iron deficiency sometimes produces hair loss. Low iron can be detected by laboratory tests and corrected with iron replacement (iron tablets or injections, or simple dietary adjustment).

Major surgery or chronic illness

Anyone who has had a major operation - a tremendous shock to the system - may notice increased hair shedding one to three months afterwards. This condition reverses itself within a few months. People who have a chronic (long term) illness may shed hair indefinitely.

Alopecia areata

Is an immune system disorder, which causes hair follicles to stop producing hair. In this type of hair loss, hair usually falls out abruptly, resulting in totally smooth, round patches about the size of a coin or larger. This disease may affect children, women or men of any age.

Traumatic alopecia

This may be due to the use of hair reshaping products (relaxers, straighteners, hot combs) or the persistent physical stress involved with tight rollers and tight braiding. Prolonged practice of these styling methods can result in irreversible hair loss. Anyone with hair loss problems should stop current styling practices that may be the cause of hair loss.

Hair loss with other symptoms

See your doctor if you experience hair loss at the same time as having any of the following symptoms:

  • skin problems
  • breathing problems
  • poor appetite or unexplained weight loss
  • vomiting
  • fever
  • pain
  • constipation or diarrhoea.

Learn more

Hair loss DermNet NZ

Credits: Health Navigator Team.