Medically reviewed by Mary Lucas, RN
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 8/25/2021
If you’ve recently undergone surgery, you may have noticed that you’re shedding more hair than normal.
Part of your scalp that used to have dense hair coverage may begin to show the classic signs of hair shedding, such as diffuse thinning.
Although anesthesia doesn’t appear to cause male pattern baldness, it may contribute to some temporary types of hair loss, such as telogen effluvium.
Below, we’ve discussed the connection between hair loss, surgery and anesthesia, as well as the hair-related symptoms you may experience if you’ve recently undergone surgery using general anesthesia.
We’ve also covered your options for treating surgery-related hair loss and stimulating optimal hair growth.
Before we get into the specifics of anesthesia and hair loss, it’s important to cover the basics of how you actually lose hair.
While most people associate all hair loss with male pattern baldness, there are actually several different types of hair loss that can affect men.
Male pattern baldness is a form of permanent hair loss. It occurs when dihydrotestosterone, or DHT — an androgen hormone produced as a byproduct of testosterone — binds to receptors in the scalp and damages the hair follicles.
Most of the time, male pattern baldness begins as a receding hairline or bald patch around the crown.
Over time, it can worsen into the classic horseshoe pattern of hair around the back and sides of your head, with almost total baldness on your scalp.
Male pattern baldness is caused by a combination of genetic and hormonal factors, and there’s no research to suggest that anesthesia or surgery play any role in this process.
Telogen effluvium, on the other hand, is a form of temporary hair loss that’s caused by changes to your hair growth cycle.
Your hair grows through a multi-phase growth cycle. During the anagen phase, hair grows from the hair follicle to its full length.
This process typically takes between two and six years for hairs on your scalp, or a few months for body hairs.
It then passes through a transitory phase called the catagen phase, followed by a period of rest and shedding called the telogen phase.
Telogen effluvium occurs when a physiologically stressful event disrupts the hair cycle, causing hairs to enter into the telogen phase prematurely.
As these hairs enter the telogen stage, growth ceases and the hairs eventually shed, resulting in noticeable hair thinning.
A range of issues can trigger telogen effluvium, including metabolic stress, changes in hormone levels, nutritional deficiencies, infections and illnesses that cause fever — any kind of stressful event to the body.
Although there’s no known association between anesthesia and male pattern baldness, there is a known link between major surgery, anesthesia and telogen effluvium.
Unlike male pattern baldness, which gradually causes a receding hairline or bald patch near the crown, telogen effluvium usually develops as excessive shedding that occurs across your entire scalp.
If you’re affected by telogen effluvium, you may notice abrupt, sudden loss of hair several months after being placed under anesthesia during surgery.
Most of the time, this hair loss will occur across your entire scalp in a diffuse pattern, giving your hair a thin, low-density appearance.
You might notice that it’s easier to view your scalp through your hair, especially under bright light or when your hair is wet.
Telogen effluvium hair loss usually starts to become noticeable two to three months after a specific event, such as surgery or exposure to anesthesia.
In the months following the causative event but before shedding, your hairs will go into a resting state.
As the hairs reenter the anagen phase of the hair growth cycle, new hairs that grow from the follicles will cause the old hairs to shed, resulting in this sudden, abrupt thinning.
Telogen effluvium is a temporary type of hair loss. Once the underlying cause of your hair loss is identified and treated, your hair will gradually grow back to its normal thickness and density.
Since telogen effluvium isn’t caused by DHT, hormonal male pattern baldness medications such as finasteride won’t stop it from occurring or improve the hair regrowth process.
However, a combination of good hair care habits and science-based hair growth products, such as minoxidil, may help to speed up hair regrowth and restore your hair faster.
Although finasteride isn’t effective at treating telogen effluvium, the topical hair loss medication minoxidil may help to stimulate growth and speed up the recovery process.
Minoxidil works by moving hair follicles into the anagen phase of the hair growth cycle from the telogen phase, and by stimulating blood supply to your scalp.
Research suggests that it may help to move hair follicles from the telogen phase into the anagen phase, potentially promoting faster regrowth.
Minoxidil is easy to use. It’s available as a liquid solution or foam and is designed to be applied directly to the areas of your scalp with hair loss.
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To control shedding, try to wash your hair using a shampoo that’s formulated to promote growth and prevent hair loss.
Good ingredients to look for in a hair loss prevention shampoo include ketoconazole, pyrithione zinc, salicylic acid and saw palmetto.
Our Hair Thickening Shampoo is formulated with saw palmetto to prevent hair loss and promote volume, moisture and optimal growth.
Stress can cause and contribute to telogen effluvium, making it important to take it easy if you’re experiencing hair loss as a result of undergoing surgery.
Simple ways to manage stress include taking time away from work, education or other stressful activities to relax, keeping yourself physically active, eating healthy and spending time with your friends and family.
Our online mental health resources provide more information about dealing with the effects that stress can have on your life and health.
Your diet plays a major role in the growth of strong, healthy hair. Certain nutritional deficiencies, such as iron deficiency or low protein intake, can contribute to telogen effluvium and affect your rate of hair growth.
For optimal hair growth, try to eat a healthy diet that consists of foods rich in vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.
Our guide to the best foods for hair growth lists ingredients to prioritize, including lean proteins, vegetables and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Another option is to add a hair growth supplement, such as our Biotin Gummy Vitamins, to your daily routine. This can help to boost your vitamin intake and ensure that you take in many of the nutrients you need for optimal, sustained hair growth.
Although anesthesia and surgery aren’t known to cause male pattern baldness, they can put strain on your head of hair via a temporary form of hair loss called telogen effluvium.
If you’ve been put under anesthesia in the last few months and have started to notice excessive hair loss, it’s best to take action quickly by limiting stress, eating a healthy, balanced diet and, if you’d like to speed up hair regrowth, using hair growth medication such as minoxidil.
Not sure if you’re experiencing telogen effluvium or permanent hair loss? Our guide to the early signs of balding goes into more detail about the symptoms of male pattern baldness, as well as the steps that you can take to stop your hair loss for good.