Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 4/12/2021
Male pattern baldness, or androgenetic alopecia, is a common issue that can affect men of all ages and backgrounds.
According to research published in Dermatologic Surgery, about 16 percent of men aged 18 to 29 have moderate to extensive hair loss. By ages 40 to 49, the percentage of men affected by moderate to extensive hair loss increases to 53 percent.
Although baldness is a common condition, it isn’t a disease. However, in some cases, hair loss or sudden hair shedding may signal that you have an underlying health issue that might require attention.
Below, we’ve explained how male pattern baldness develops, as well as other types of hair loss that may affect you throughout your life. We’ve also looked at some scientific research that links male hair loss to several diseases and other health issues.
Finally, we’ve explained your options for treating hair loss, including FDA-approved medications that can slow down shedding, prevent further hair loss and stimulate hair growth.
Male pattern baldness isn’t a disease. However, some other forms of hair loss may be symptoms of underlying health issues such as stress or autoimmune disorders.
Hair loss from male pattern baldness occurs when the hormone dihydrotestosterone, or DHT, damages your hair follicles and prevents them from producing new hairs.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t inherit baldness from your mother's father. However, research suggests that your genetics may play a part in your risk of developing baldness as you age.
If you’re prone to baldness, you can slow down its effects, prevent it from getting worse and even potentially regrow “lost” hair using FDA-approved hair loss medications.
Male pattern baldness is a common issue that tends to develop as you get older. Baldness can begin as early as your teens, with your risk of significant hair loss increasing with each year that passes by.
Most of the time, male pattern baldness starts as a receding hairline or bald spot at the crown of your head.
While some men only develop mild hair loss that doesn’t get much worse over time, others may experience significant hair loss. Over time, a small bald spot can progress to near-total baldness that affects most of the scalp.
Although you may have heard that baldness is caused by your mother’s father’s genes or things like wearing a hat too often, the reality is that baldness develops due to a combination of genetic and hormonal factors.
Specifically, over time, a hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT) can harm your hair follicles and stop them from producing new hairs.
Your body creates dihydrotestosterone as a byproduct of the sex hormone testosterone. We’ve talked more about how DHT affects your hair follicles in our full guide to DHT and male pattern baldness.
Not everyone is equally sensitive to DHT. Researchers suspect that variations in a gene called AR, which provides instructions for creating proteins known as androgen receptors, may play a role in male pattern baldness.
Since male pattern baldness is caused by a genetic sensitivity to DHT, most treatments work by blocking DHT, either at your scalp or throughout your body.
Others work by stimulating the hair growth at a more local level, such as by increasing the rate of blood flow to your hair follicles. We’ve talked more about these treatments further down the page.
Although baldness itself isn’t a disease, some forms of hair loss can be symptoms of underlying health issues.
For example, a temporary form of hair loss called telogen effluvium often develops as a result of physical or psychological health problems. These include:
Illnesses or infections that cause high fever
Extreme, sudden weight loss
Sudden dietary changes
Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) or hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
Some sexually transmitted diseases, such as syphilis, may also, on rare occasions, cause temporary hair shedding.
Hair loss from telogen effluvium occurs when your hairs prematurely enter into their telogen, or rest, phase. They may stay in this phase for several months before shedding. People with this form of hair loss often notice sudden shedding and diffuse thinning across the entire scalp.
Unlike male pattern baldness, which is permanent, hair shedding from telogen effluvium doesn’t cause any lasting damage to your hair follicles. Once the underlying cause is found and treated, your hair should gradually grow back to its normal level of coverage and thickness.
If you think you may have telogen effluvium hair loss and that an underlying disease or medical condition could be responsible, it’s important to talk to a healthcare provider.
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Some research suggests that male pattern baldness, despite not being a disease itself, could be linked to a higher risk of developing certain diseases.
For example, a study published in 2000 in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine (now JAMA Internal Medicine) found that men with vertex pattern baldness, or hair loss around the crown of the head, have a higher risk of myocardial infarction (heart attack) or angina.
This risk was especially high in men with vertex hair loss who had other signs of cardiovascular health issues, such as high cholesterol or hypertension (high blood pressure).
A separate study published in 2015 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that men who have frontal plus moderate vertex baldness (hair loss at the hairline and crown) at age 45 have a higher risk of developing aggressive prostate cancer than men without visible hair loss.
A more recent systematic review, which looked at data from 15 studies, also found an increased risk of prostate cancer in men with vertex baldness.
However, interestingly, this study didn’t find any link between general male pattern baldness and prostate cancer risk.
Now, it’s important to put this research into context. These studies do not mean that you’re very likely to have a heart attack or develop aggressive prostate cancer if you’re starting to lose hair around your crown. Although the increase in risk appears to be real, it’s relatively small.
However, they do suggest that there might be a link between the factors that cause some types of male pattern baldness and the factors that cause certain diseases and health conditions.
If you’re starting to lose your hair, it’s important not to panic. Although hair loss can be stressful and frustrating to deal with, several proven treatment options are available that can slow down, stop or reverse hair loss that’s caused by male pattern baldness.
Currently, the most effective way to treat and prevent male pattern baldness is with medication, including the FDA-approved medications as finasteride and minoxidil.
Finasteride is a prescription hair loss medication that comes in tablet form. It works by stopping your body from converting testosterone into dihydrotestosterone, or DHT -- the hormone that’s responsible for male pattern baldness.
Research into finasteride shows that it can prevent hair loss from worsening and, for some men, stimulate hair growth.
We offer finasteride online, following a consultation with a licensed healthcare provider who will determine if a prescription is appropriate.
Minoxidil is a topical hair loss medication. It’s available over the counter as a liquid solution or as a foam that’s applied directly to the areas of your scalp with thinning hair or noticeable hair loss.
Unlike finasteride, minoxidil doesn’t block DHT. Instead, it appears to treat hair loss by moving your hairs into the anagen (growth) phase of the hair growth cycle and increasing blood flow to your scalp.
Research shows that minoxidil is effective at slowing down and stopping hair loss by itself, but even more effective when it’s used at the same time as finasteride.
In addition to medication, other products and procedures may help to slow down or prevent hair loss and promote hair growth. These include:
Hair loss shampoo. Some shampoos, which use ingredients like ketoconazole and saw palmetto, are designed to treat and prevent hair loss.
Although some studies have found that these ingredients may be effective at preventing hair loss, there’s less scientific evidence for these products than for medications such as finasteride and minoxidil.
Hair growth vitamins and minerals. Several vitamins and minerals, including zinc and biotin, are linked to healthy hair growth. However, there’s limited evidence that nutrients or vitamins can prevent male pattern baldness.
Hair transplant surgery. This procedure involves surgically transplanting hairs from the back and sides of your scalp onto your hairline or crown. Although it’s costly, it can have a significant impact on your hair’s thickness and appearance.
Our guide to hair transplant surgery provides more information about how this procedure works, its benefits, pricing and more.
Male pattern baldness is a common issue that affects many men in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond.
Although baldness itself isn’t a disease, some diseases and medical conditions may cause you to temporarily lose hair. There may also be a link between some types of hair loss and a higher risk of certain medical conditions, such as heart disease and prostate cancer.
Our guide to male pattern baldness goes into more detail about how baldness occurs, common symptoms, treatments and more.