If you have undergone anesthesia in the past few months, you may notice an alarming symptom that you had not even connected with anesthetic: hair thinning and loss.
While many forms of alopecia are due to an underlying condition or cause, the type that results from anesthesia is known as telogen effluvium and is linked to stress or otherwise traumatic events.
Fortunately, while this seemingly sudden thinning and lost hair may be alarming, it is a very common side effect and not something to be overly concerned with.
This post will include a look at the hair cycle, an explanation of anesthesia’s effects on the body, and how you can help your hair to recover more quickly from this condition.
Understanding Telogen Effluvium
Telogen effluvium is a common form of hair loss (the second most common according to the American Hair Loss Association). In the majority of cases, it is temporary and it results in seemingly sudden thinning across the entire scalp.
To understand the hair loss that is experienced by those diagnosed with telogen effluvium, it is first important to understand the hair growth cycle.
As your hair grows, it goes through four main stages. They include:
Anagen (active growth) – This is the longest stage of hair growth, lasting anywhere from two to six years and resulting in about six inches of hair growth every year. At this stage in the cycle, Dermal Papilla Cells (DPCs) are rapidly dividing in order to accommodate and encourage growth.
Catagen (transition) – Lasting anywhere from a few days to just two weeks, this stage includes the cessation of active hair growth and marks the point in the cycle where the hair follicles begin to be pushed from the papilla.
Telogen (resting/inactive) – Lasting from three to six months, this is the stage where cell activity is minimal and the club hair rests on the scalp. The term “inactive” is a bit misleading, however, as under the surface new anagen hairs are beginning to form.
Exogen (final) – While not always included in the hair growth cycle, the exogen phase is a critical part begin telogen and anagen transition. This is the point in the cycle where telogen hair begins to shed, anywhere from 50 to 100 hairs per day. This, in turn, makes room for the newly-formed anagen hairs, where the cycle will then begin again.
In telogen effluvium, something occurred to cause hair to either enter the telogen phase prematurely or remain in the telogen phase for a prolonged period of time.
According to the American Hair Loss Association, there are three ways in which telogen effluvium can present.
The first involves an external shock. This could be anything from a traumatic accident to surgery, and it leads to the sudden turnover of hair from the anagen phase to the telogen phase. This leads to seemingly sudden balding over the next few months.
The second is much more subtle, and it occurs when hairs that have naturally entered the telogen phase remain in the phase for too long. This can be caused by illness, chronic stress, or an underlying medical issue.
The third way for telogen effluvium to present is in the form of shortened, quickly-cycled hair phases. This results in shorter hairs being produced, eventually leading to thinning and noticeable hair loss.
The Effects of Anesthesia on the Hair
Telogen effluvium is hair loss that is, in large part, due to mental or physiological stress. It is fair to say that undergoing anesthesia can lead to quite a bit of stress.
General anesthetics have been used for over 150 years, and while there is still much that is not understood about its mechanisms, we do know that it plays a role in altering the nervous system and releasing hormones.
Anesthesia and the Nervous System
In contrast to local anesthesia which blocks nerve transmission in only the area injected, general anesthesia is a full-body experience that results in loss of awareness and consciousness. These anesthetics similarly block nerves but on a larger scale.
When this happens, the vital physiologic functions – including breathing and blood pressure maintenance – continue. However, many of these functions are suppressed – including digestion and swallowing – so they require the assistance of a trained medical professional (an anesthesiologist) to monitor and control throughout the procedure.
As a non-vital function, it is not difficult to see how telogen effluvium can develop. After all, anesthesia is physiological stress put on your body, and your hair may prematurely enter the telogen phase when faced with such an experience.
This is because the hair follicle is surrounded by nerves. When under stress, these nerves send out a distress signal.
This can lead to anagen hair “shutting down,” as shown in a 2003 study performed on mice, at least until the stressor has disappeared.
As described above, anesthesia-induced telogen effluvium would classify as the first type. That is because it is caused by an external experience – in this case, anesthesia – and comes on suddenly.
Anesthesia and Hormone Responses
As you can imagine, the nervous system does not take too kindly to interventions. In fact, one way in which the body fights back is through the release of cortisol.
Cortisol is known as the “stress hormone”. When activated, it causes a body-wide response that can be less-than-helpful when it comes to hair growth.
One of the main symptoms of cortisol activation is vasoconstriction. This is the involuntary narrowing of the blood vessels, and it means fewer nutrients and less oxygen can make their way to the scalp and hair follicles.
Interestingly, a 2005 study showed that hair follicles have the equivalent to an adrenal gland. This is the gland that releases cortisol, meaning that hair is directly affected by its release.
How to Treat Anesthesia-Induced Telogen Effluvium
The thinning and balding associated with telogen effluvium can be alarming. This is especially true when it happens months after the cause in question, leading you to not even link your hair thinning with anesthetic.
Fortunately, telogen effluvium is a temporary condition that does not require any treatment or intervention.
Of course, there are a few things you can do to speed up the process and keep your scalp and hair follicles healthy while your hair gets back to its original glory.
Take a Deep Breath
Prolonged stress – whether as an after-effect of the surgery or due to the hair thinning itself – can lead to chronic telogen effluvium. This, in turn, leads to more stress and even more thinning.
To combat this, you should consider giving meditation (or otherwise mindful breathing) a try.
Deep, purposeful breaths can decrease your stress levels, and it can also help you to manage future stress in a more effective manner.
Eat a Balanced Diet
Diet can play a large role in hair loss, even if it is initially caused by stress or external trauma.
To improve the quality of your hair, and to quicken the process of hair growth, you should focus on creating a diet that’s focused on nutrient and mineral intake.
Iron is an important one, as studies have shown that iron supplementation – even in the absence of iron deficiency – can be a beneficial treatment for telogen effluvium.
Of course, it is recommend that you speak with your doctor prior to supplementation, as iron overload is also a very real – and very dangerous – possibility.
Other minerals and nutrients to be sure to add to your diet include vitamins A and D, copper, calcium, and folic acid. This can be done with a specifically-designed supplement, or by adding nutrient-rich foods to your diet.
It is true that hair thinning can directly impact your self-esteem. And, while telogen effluvium may seem like an emergency, in the majority of cases, your hair will be back to its original state in a matter of months.
For some, the process of full hair restoration can take up to a year. However, you will slowly see less and less hair in the shower drain or on your brush within the first few months.
If you must take an active role in your treatment, stick with natural methods. These focus on whole-body health and general scalp care and will provide your hair with a healthy environment in which to grow.
Hair loss – no matter the cause – can be devastating. And, even if you are prepared for it beforehand, it can still have some serious effects on your self-esteem.
When it comes to telogen effluvium, the main thing is to reduce stressors and not worry. Continued stress will only prolong the hair loss, and this can lead to chronic telogen effluvium, a condition best addressed by a medical professional.
If you are looking to take a more hands-on approach to treatment, stick to the naturals. This includes vitamin and mineral supplementation, as well as the development of a gentle hair care routine.
I am 3 months post op for a LTHR. Everything is wonderful with my hip but my hair is falling out in larger amounts than usual! I notice it especially when I shampoo or brush my hair. I have long hair so the amount falling looks horrendous!
My girlfriend had 2 hip replacements last year and advised that her hair loss was quite noticeable after the first THR, not the 2nd. Her doctor advised iron supplements, so thats what Ive done. I purchased the mildest form of iron-ferrous. Hope my hair goes back to normal SOON! After all, a womans hair is her crowning glory! 🙂
An iron supplement is a good place to start, though there may be other nutrients you might want to consider: https://www.hairguard.com/best-vitamins-that-can-block-dht/
And this type of hair loss is often temporary and should resolve within a year or so. However, you may also find these tips useful: https://www.hairguard.com/scalp-secrets/
I woke up in the middle of the night in January 2018 with a fever. I got up to go pee and felt a JAB in my lower right side. Hours later, felt nauseated and fever came back. Went to hospital. Had CT scan and they found my appendix needed to be removed. Okay, fast forward to April 9th 2018. They found my gall bladder was LOADED with stones. Had to have that removed. I was in SERIOUS pain. After more MRIs’ they found they needed to install a stent to stop bile leakage. Then, my incision became infected. IV antibiotics along with morphine, dilaudid, round the clock. I had to have anesthesia four times in half a year. Heavy duty “knock out drops” too. Had to be on respirator. Finally, at the end of July 2018 the stent was removed and I’m done. Okay, a wee or so later, my hair was “shedding”. And yes, I was under TONS of stress and was VERY depressed because of my situation. The shedding has stopped but now I need to keep the stress low so that my hair will grow back in. I remember sitting in the bed thinking, wow, I can’t wait to get this done so I can get back to my gorgeous Wen hair. I did not know I was about to embark upon a trip to hell itself and back. My hair did not come out in bunches, it kind of shedded throughout my whole head. I can tell it’s not thinner but less hair is there. I remember rinsing my hands and feeling alot of thick, coarse hairs rinsing off so much that it plugged up the drain and stopped the water from draining away! That has stopped. My hair was really nice. I miss it. I had no idea that what I had been through could cause that.
Hi Jean, thank you for sharing your experience with our readers.
This information was very informative and very encouraging. Thank you!
6 months after have a series of 3 spines surgeries over 8 days; my hair decided to take a hike. It’s even more devastating because African American hair tends to grow at a slower rate. I’m glad that it will eventually grow back but it’s gonna be a long while.
Thanks for sharing your experience Heather. I hope your hair returns as quickly as possible.
Over the years , every surgery I have ever had I can expect hair loss 8-12 weeks later . I’ve gone through this cycle 5 times . To help combat the effects , nutrition as well as my laser cap helps to replenish the loss quicker.
Hi Deborah, thank you kindly for your comment. It’s great to have first hand experience of what you went through. And thank you for the two tips you shared. I’m sure people reading this who have gone through surgery or are considering it will find that useful.
I recently had surgery in October. And with in the last three weeks my hair has thinned out. I think I’m also losing my eyelashes. I went and had blood test to make sure it was not something hormonal or lack of vitamin deficiency. Thank you for this site because now I feel like I do have an answer. I talk to my back surgeon and he had no clue that Hair loss was a part of anesthesia.
I am buying a wig. Trying to reduce my stress level. Plan to eat more balanced diet and exercise. And just hope that in the near future it starts to grow.
Hi Sue, thanks for sharing your experience. Your thinning hair and the surgery certainly sound related. Glad we could help you. I would feel quite positive your hair will recover. Reducing stress levels would be a good place to start. The stress/shock of surgery is potentially one of the primary causes.
Does taking biotin, collagen or another supplement help?
After an endometrial ablation during which I’d been given anesthesia followed by an emergency cholecystectomy (gallbladder removal) three days later, my hair started shedding while I was still in the hospital. This was in November, 2018 and it’s now January, 2019. My hair is pretty thin on top of my crown and hairline. Thanks to reading this article I know what’s caused it and how to deal with it. I’ll be returning to a plant-based diet and taking supplements. I figured that there must be a cortisol connection because ever since that time I’ve been getting very anxious and emotional and it has been debilitating at times. Thanks for all of your research and for writing this article!
Thank you for sharing your story, and for your support!
I’ve had 5 major surgeries, and with the last 2 surgeries, I lost a lot of my hair, but each of the last 2 times, about 1/3 of my hair did not grown back. Overall, I’ve permanently lost about 5/8 – 2/3 of the hair. My hair usually started coming out about 2-3 months after surgery, and continued for about 3 months. It has been over 3 years since my last surgery, and several years since my next to last surgery, and the hair won’t come back. I’ve searched, and searched, but can’t find the reasons why.
In some cases, it’s possible for anesthesia to trigger another type of hair loss unrelated to Telogen Effluvium. Or it may have triggered TE, which then went on to trigger another type of hair loss that you were also prone to, such as pattern hair loss.
In any case, you want to focus on increasing blood flow to the area and reducing inflammation (if present).
You can learn the steps on how to do that here: https://www.hairguard.com/how-to-regrow-your-hair-naturally/
Hey there. Here’s my story. Back in 2015, I decided to get a rhinoplasty surgery. I had a bump on the side of my nose for several years,(8) and did not care too much about it, cause it didn’t affect my breathing or my overall health. But as time went on, it kinda bugged me. In which being single, young at age of 23, and had some extra cash at the time, I did some research on it. It looked like I had a small nasal bone fracture. But again, it wasn’t affecting my health, but essential it was just looks. So after appointments and research, I decided to go ahead with the surgery and straighten my nose. To be honest, I felt like everything went well. The typical bruising/swelling for a few weeks, then eventually the shape took place and I was happy! But then all of sudden, I started to notice something, and I wasn’t my nose. It was my front hair line. It just didn’t look right, but I was denying it, and doing research on possible temporary hair loss after surgery, I was confident it would be nothing. But as a few months went by(6-8) months went by, I noticed my hair wouldn’t grow as quick as I use to. I usually had short hair, cause it would grow insainly quick and by 3 weeks I would get it cut again. It felt like a natural process. But eventually the cuts dragged later and later to basically 2 months. Then I started to realize a thinning spot on my one side crown. I totally lost it then. I kept move my hair to cover it, thinkin oh ok its its fine. but then seeing it again by pictures or mirrors. So I kept taking pictures of my scalp for a year straight to track it. Oh yeah, I also went to my local doctor about this and got a blood test, but everything was fine, except high blood pressure. Basically I was told it was Male Pattern Baldness. And doctor assumed someone in my family had no hair, but in the last 4 generations, my core family all had great hair. So I knew it wasn’t from that. So fast forward to today. May 2019. I did massive stay up all night research, and contemplating about taking rogaine or the pill to convert the testosterone, but honestly I rather not waste my time and money on it. I have accept the fact that I cannot control the lost of hair, and just enjoy life while I am still alive. Honestly, why waste precious time on that. Another helpful part of acceptation, finding the love of my life and accepting who I am, enjoying our time together. But I just want to get my story out there. I am not sure the anesthesia was the reason for my hair loss. It was my first time in my life in a surgery and under anesthesia. But who really knows. I know sometimes I kinda wish I could tell myself in 2015 and say just wait or don’t worry about that. honestly, if I had a girlfriend at that time, that didn’t care about my nose, I probably wouldn’t have gotten the surgery. But someone once told me “Everthing happens for a reason”. So maybe this was suppose to happen. Anyways that’s my story and I hope if someelse is reading this and deciding or not to have a surgery that isn’t life or death obviously, but a fix something for looks. Take the time and really think about it. Probably wont be like me….but I never would of thought this was guna happen………Take care, Scott
So glad I found this page thought I was alone so glad Im not. Had surgery on March 29 and recovery was great until two month after, my hair started falling out and then like alot of it fallingout thought something going wrong with me I called my doctor and I plan to go in next week. Then I just started to google this and found out anesthesia could be the cause. Wow just wow I had no idea. I have very thick hair thank goodness but it has lightened up like i had it thinned out with shears. I wonder how long it will take to recouperate from this I scared to shampoo and slowly comb it because of falling hair. I do however see my roots growing in because they are all white. I feel sad because I cannot color it right now and I need to look my best for my daughters high school graduation. Is there anything temporary like natural spray color i can use that is safe?