Treatments for male pattern baldness

The NHS estimates that around 6.5 million men in the UK are affected by male-pattern baldness. It is the most common type of hair loss and is usually inherited and, despite what you may think, it also affects women.

Bald man
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Male pattern baldness is so named because of the set pattern it most often follows - the first sign is usually a receding hairline and thinning hair on the crown and temples follow, often leaving a ring of hair around the head. In some cases it results in complete hair loss, though in women the baldness tends to affect only a patch in the centre of scalp.

It is caused by a hormone called Dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which is converted from testosterone. Sufferers have hair follicles that are over sensitive to DHT, which causes them to shrink and eventually cease to function resulting in hair loss.

Unfortunately there is no cure and, since it is so often a genetic problem, prevention is not really an option. However, the good news is that there are treatments that can slow down the process.

There are currently two medicines available in the UK to treat male pattern baldness - Finasteride and Minoxidil.

Finasteride is a tablet that works by preventing testosterone being converted into DHT, thereby slowing the hair loss process. Roughly 80 per cent who try this treatment see an improvement and side effects are rare. However, it is only available to men and costs in the region of £90 for three-months worth.

Minoxidil is a lotion designed to be rubbed directly onto the scalp. It is available to both men and women affected by male pattern baldness and, like Finasteride, side effects are uncommon. The NHS has found that about 50 per cent of men who use the lotion find their hair loss has slowed while some 15 per cent experienced regrowth. On the flip side, around a third of those who tried it saw no change at all. It is, however, a cheaper alternative to Finasteride, costing £80 for a six-month supply.

In both cases, the effects begin to wear off once treatment is stopped.

Male-pattern baldness can result in a lack of self-esteem and in some cases depression, and for those who are suffering in this way, it may be worth considering a surgical approach.

For instance, a hair transplant can help those whose hair loss is limited to the front of the scalp. The surgery involves taking non-sensitive hairs from the back of the head and "transplanting" them to the affected area. A fairly minor procedure, patients can be in and out the same day and the operation is carried out under local anaesthetic.

A good deal of skill is required on the part of the surgeon if the best results are to be achieved but the advantage is that, since it uses your own hair, a more natural appearance is maintained.

Alternatively, for those who are losing hair in the middle of the scalp, a scalp reduction may provide the answer. It involves removing those parts of the scalp where the hair has gone and effectively "stretching" those parts with good hair coverage over the head. However, it you are likely to go completely bald, it is not recommended.

If you are concerned about male-pattern baldness or are considering treatment, always speak to your GP who will be able to advise you on the correct and most effective course of treatment.