Pending job cuts at the office. Back-to-back final exams. A messy divorce. An unexpected surgery.

What do they all have in common?

In a word: stress. While everyone knows stress can take a physical and psychological toll, it also can lead to problems like hair loss.

There are many reasons why men and women lose their hair, but stress may be the primary reason for unexplained hair loss, according to dermatologist Flor A. Mayoral, MD, a clinical instructor in the Departments of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine in Florida.

When you’re  under stress, hair can go into the “telogen” (fall-out) phase. Telogen effluvium is a very common hair-loss problem that can occur up to three months after a stressful event. After the initial hair loss, hair usually grows back in six to nine months.

Life-changing events like childbirth or surgery can also cause hair loss. At these times, the body takes a timeout from growing hair to concentrate on recovery and healing. Hair doesn’t grow as much, and some could shed without growing back right away.

“Stress affects people differently. Some may develop an ulcer, or have a heart attack, or lose their hair,” Dr. Mayoral says. “Hair loss is a normal response to stress, but patients should see a dermatologist for a proper evaluation to rule out other medical causes.

“I also advise patients to avoid any strange diets where only one or two foods are allowed,” she adds, “as improper nutrition and extreme or rapid weight loss can result in hair loss.”

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