Hair loss is a known side effect of certain types of surgery. Weight loss (bariatric) surgery, in particular, is known to lead to increased hair fall during recovery. One study found that 57% of weight loss surgery patients experienced hair loss after surgery .
However, it’s not unusual to see more hair shedding after any type of surgery. Here, we’ll explore the reasons why you might see hair loss after surgery, and how you can treat and restore your hair after going under the knife.
The following types of surgery have been linked with post-surgical hair loss [1-2]:
This list isn’t exhaustive. In fact, it’s possible to see hair loss after any type of surgery, due to the stress involved in undergoing and recovering from an operation.
Some researchers have suggested that longer operations are more likely to result in permanent alopecia .
So why exactly does surgery lead to hair loss? In most cases, the cause boils down to one (or a combination) of the following reasons.
Stress is a leading factor in the development of hair loss after surgery. Extreme stress and trauma (whether physical or emotional) can cause a type of temporary hair loss known as telogen effluvium, which can affect up to 70% of your hair at any one time .
Surgery increases the levels of cortisol surging through your body (also known as the primary stress hormone). Cortisol has been shown to disrupt the hair growth cycle, which leads to sudden hair loss . When your cortisol levels return to normal, your hair should start to regrow.
One study found that just 4% of cardiac surgery patients felt no anxiety before their operation . So high stress levels are common among surgical patients and may have a significant impact on postoperative hair loss.
As well as cortisol, having an operation can impact other hormones in the body. High-stress surgeries have been shown to create greater hormonal changes, making you more vulnerable to hair loss .
Women who undergo a surgical hysterectomy or ovary removal may find that the subsequent hormone changes (i.e. a drop in oestrogen) leads to hair changes. Female pattern hair loss and frontal fibrosing alopecia are more common following the menopause, which is why HRT can sometimes help with hair loss.
Some drugs that are used before, during, and after surgery may cause hair loss. For example, chemotherapy is a known hair loss trigger and is often provided alongside cancer removal surgery.
See a list of more medications that can cause hair loss for more information.
Some patients experience hair loss (notably, alopecia areata) after being under general anaesthetic for surgery [2, 7]. Research has found that the longer you’re exposed to the anaesthetic, the more likely you are to develop hair loss.
Spending a long time on the operating table may also cause hair loss . This is known as pressure alopecia, and it can have several symptoms, including:
Scarring alopecia resulting from extensive scalp pressure.
Pressure alopecia is often the cause of hair falling out if you’ve been in the hospital for a while. Laying down for long periods can restrict blood flow to the follicles, which may result in hair loss.
Other issues like low oxygen levels and low blood pressure resulting from long hospital stays can also trigger or worsen pressure alopecia .
Post-surgery hair loss can last anywhere from a few weeks to several months. In some cases, it may be permanent. It depends on the type of hair loss you’re experiencing:
While hair loss after surgery can’t always be stopped immediately, there are things you can do to slow hair shedding and promote fast recovery. Here are four ways to stop hair loss after surgery.
Keep your scalp and remaining hair healthy to promote rapid recovery from your hair loss. Eat a healthy diet, wash your hair regularly, and stay away from heat-styling tools like straighteners and curling tongs.
Physical and emotional stress are leading causes of hair loss after surgery. To regain hair after stress, you need to take steps to prioritise your mental health. This may include:
Trichologists specialise in scalp and hair health, so speaking to a qualified trichologist can help you create a proactive treatment plan for tackling post-surgery hair loss.
Book a consultation with the Wimpole Clinic’s trichology team to get a diagnosis and treatment plan for your individual hair and scalp needs after any type of surgery.
After any surgery, you need to eat a healthy, balanced diet to promote recovery and ensure your body gets the nutrients it needs to heal.
Certain surgeries (in particular, weight loss surgery) have been linked with long-term nutritional deficiencies . In this case, it’s important to discuss your nutritional needs with your surgical team and seek advice on any supplements you should take.
Vitamins for hair loss don’t work for everyone. They’re much more likely to have an impact if you have a known nutritional deficiency.
Weight loss surgery (also known as bariatric surgery or gastric bypass surgery) is one of the most common operations associated with hair loss [9-10]. It affects 57% of weight loss surgery patients .
Hair loss after weight loss surgery happens for several reasons:
Most people will recover the majority of their hair after a few months, provided you focus on optimising your diet for healthy hair. Eating a protein-rich diet, taking any supplements recommended by your doctor, and living a healthy lifestyle can all help promote hair regrowth after bariatric surgery.
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