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Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Let’s be real for a second. If you feel like you’re seeing thinning hair up top, you’re definitely not alone. Hair loss affects millions of men worldwide, and one form of hair loss called androgenetic alopecia (or male pattern baldness) is thought to affect 50 million men in the United States alone.
Androgenetic alopecia is the most common type of hair loss men experience. But there are also certain medical conditions and illnesses that cause hair loss — including thyroid problems.
While it’s not a 50 million-man problem, hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism could contribute to hair loss. Plus, thyroid conditions can occur in conjunction with autoimmune diseases such as alopecia areata, which could affect hair growth.
We’re willing to bet you have lots of questions and some rising anxiety — take a deep breath and let us walk you through the details.
Below, we’ll explain the relationship between thyroid issues and hair loss, go over symptoms to look for and provide a brief roadmap to diagnosis and treatment.
Sorry to be blunt, but thyroid disorders suck.
Conditions like hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can cause a diverse range of symptoms, from reduced or increased energy levels to changes in body composition and weight.
We’ll get to those in a moment. But to cut to the chase, yes, it’s possible for these conditions to affect your hair.
The thyroid plays a vital role in regulating many bodily functions. Any disruption to the production of thyroid hormones, such as triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4), can affect numerous important bodily processes, hair growth among them.
But you should know that the kind of hair loss caused by thyroid imbalances isn’t male pattern baldness.
Also called androgenic alopecia, male pattern baldness is a form of hormonal hair loss caused by a genetic sensitivity to the hormone dihydrotestosterone, or DHT. It occurs when DHT gradually miniaturizes the hair follicles and eventually stops them from growing at all.
As we’ve covered in our guide to the hair growth process, every single hair on your scalp goes through a four-stage growth process. Each stage corresponds to a different phase in the hair’s development.
During the anagen phase, the hair grows from the follicle.
During the catagen phase, the follicle shrinks and the hair detaches from the scalp.
During the telogen phase, a new hair starts to grow underneath the old hair.
During the exogen phase, the old hair falls out and is replaced by the new hair.
As part of this process, old hairs that have reached the end of their growth cycle are constantly falling out from your scalp, causing you to lose 50 to 100 hairs a day. Since your hair follicles don’t all grow in sync, this daily loss doesn’t have any impact on your appearance.
But when androgenic alopecia starts putting all hairs into perma-sleep, you’ll start to see thinning hair. Unfortunately, thyroid dysfunction can have similar effects.
It’s also possible for thyroid function issues to contribute to hair loss by disrupting your body’s natural hair growth cycle.
Of course, thyroid issues may actually be a red herring for some men.
Many people with thyroid conditions suffer from autoimmune thyroid disease (ATD). People affected by ATD have a greater risk of developing other autoimmune diseases that cause hair loss, such as alopecia areata.
Alopecia areata occurs when the body’s immune system targets and damages the hair follicles. Once damaged, the follicles stop producing new hairs, resulting in exclamation point hairs and, eventually, hair loss.
Hair loss from alopecia areata usually occurs in small, circular patches. It often looks different from a receding hairline or crown hair loss seen with male pattern baldness or the diffuse thinning of thyroid hair loss. Some people with alopecia areata develop bands of bald skin called ophiasis.
Alopecia areata can cause total hair loss on the scalp, as well as loss of hair in the eyebrows, eyelashes and beard area. Some people with alopecia areata may notice their nails become slightly red, with a weak, rough and brittle texture. Or they may have pitting (little dents or dimples) in their nails.
Unlike male pattern baldness, which usually causes hair to fall out in a clear, recognizable pattern, hair loss caused by a thyroid condition looks a little different:
You’ll normally notice diffuse thinning hair across your entire scalp.
Your hair might start to look thinner than usual.
Your scalp will be easily visible in bright light.
Certain thyroid conditions can also change the texture of your hair.
If you have hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), your hair might feel very fine or brittle. If you have hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), your hair might feel drier and coarser than usual.
If you’re worried you might have thyroid-related hair loss, the best approach is to talk with a healthcare provider about your symptoms.
Diagnosing hair loss due to a thyroid issue requires diagnosing the thyroid issue itself. A number of things can cause similar patterns of hair loss, and the only way to determine that your thyroid is to blame is to diagnose the thyroid issue.
Thyroid conditions such as hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are quite easy to diagnose. If you display symptoms of a thyroid condition, your provider might request a blood test to measure your levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and thyroxine (T4).
If these levels are outside the normal range, your healthcare provider may recommend additional testing to identify the root cause of your thyroid condition.
The good (well, actually sort of bad) news is that thyroid conditions such as hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can cause a range of other symptoms that are easier to spot before things get serious.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism may include:
Fatigue and tiredness
Slow heart rate
Increased sensitivity to cold
Discomfort, pain or swelling of the joints
Muscular weakness, aches, stiffness or pain
Symptoms of hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) may include:
Rapid heart rate, irregular heartbeat or heart palpitations
Weight loss or difficulty maintaining a healthy weight
Increased appetite, often without an increase in body weight
Anxiety, irritability, nervousness or physical tremors
Increased sensitivity to heat
Muscle weakness or fatigue
More frequent bowel movements
Insomnia or difficulty falling asleep
It’s also worth noting that in people over 60, hyperthyroidism is sometimes mistaken for depression or dementia. Older adults may exhibit different symptoms, like loss of appetite or withdrawal from people.
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If your healthcare provider diagnoses you with a thyroid condition, you’ll likely be prescribed medication to treat the condition.
For hyperthyroidism, your healthcare provider may prescribe an anti-thyroid medication, such as Tapazole® (methimazole) or propylthiouracil to stop your thyroid gland from producing overly high levels of thyroid hormones.
Depending on your symptoms, treatment for hyperthyroidism might also include radioactive iodine or beta-blockers. Severe cases of hyperthyroidism are occasionally treated by removing some or all of the thyroid gland with a procedure known as thyroidectomy.
As for hair loss, the prognosis is pretty good if you catch it early.
Most thyroid-related hair loss resolves on its own after you successfully treat the underlying condition. After treating your thyroid condition, it can take several months for your hair to start growing again, but it should eventually come back as thick as it was before.
Men who want to deal with hair loss more quickly might consider options like minoxidil foam and minoxidil solution. These treatments can increase hair growth by encouraging healthy blood flow to hair follicles.
Since thyroid-related hair loss isn’t caused by DHT, male pattern baldness treatments like finasteride aren’t effective at treating or preventing this form of hair loss.
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A thyroid condition could cause some degree of hair loss.
If you have a thyroid condition and believe you’re suffering from alopecia areata, contact your healthcare provider.
Not sure what’s going on with your health? Here are the most important takeaways to consider when making an appointment with a professional:
Unlike male pattern baldness, thyroid-related hair loss doesn’t typically result in a receding hairline or a bald spot at the crown. Instead, it usually leads to diffuse hair loss across the entire scalp.
If you’re concerned about thyroid-related hair loss, contact your healthcare provider. With the right treatment for your thyroid condition, you can manage your symptoms and see regrowth of some lost hair.
Most cases of thyroid-related hair loss get better on their own after treating the specific thyroid condition.
Several effective treatments can help you manage the symptoms of alopecia areata, including corticosteroids.
Medications such as minoxidil may help promote the growth of new, healthy hair.
Want to get this treated ASAP? Our guides to alopecia types and other causes of hair loss can help you compare conditions, understand symptoms and get a better idea of what a healthcare provider will be looking for when they examine you.
We also offer information on treatment and hair loss treatments you can get from the convenience of your home. Our guide to hair growth products covers how the latest, most popular hair loss treatment options work, with real, scientific data backing them up.
Thyroid issues can be signs of bigger problems. So can hair loss. Take both seriously — get help today.