How a Hair Loss Diagnosis Works

Jill Johnson

Medically reviewed by Jill Johnson, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 5/14/2022

Male pattern baldness is a common condition that affects more than half of all men by the end of their 40s. 

If you’ve spent years watching your hairline slowly recede, or if you’ve recently spotted an early sign of balding, you may have considered talking to a healthcare provider about your options for treating hair loss.

The first step in treating hair loss is a hair loss diagnosis. To diagnose hair loss, your healthcare provider may look at your hair and scalp, perform an in-office test or use a blood test to find out what’s causing your hair to fall out.

Below, we’ve discussed how the hair loss diagnosis process works, as well as what to expect if you visit your healthcare provider to talk about hair loss.

We’ve also explained your options for treating male hair loss, from over-the-counter medications to prescription treatments, surgical procedures and more. 

How Does Diagnosing Hair Loss Work?

Most men seek professional help for hair loss after noticing one of the early symptoms of male pattern baldness, such as a receding hairline or diffuse hair thinning that may make your scalp more visible under bright light.

If you’ve noticed one of these signs, or if you just feel worried that your hair is starting to fall out, you can seek help by contacting your primary care provider or scheduling an appointment with a dermatologist (a type of doctor that specializes in skin, nail and hair conditions, read more: doctor for hair loss).

Hair loss can happen for several reasons, and one of the first steps in the process of diagnosing hair loss is working out what form of hair loss you have. 

Common forms of hair loss include:

  • Androgenetic alopecia. Usually referred to as male pattern baldness (or female pattern hair loss, when it affects women), this type of hair loss develops due to follicular damage caused by dihydrotestosterone, or DHT.
    Androgenetic alopecia is the most common form of hair loss amongst men. It’s the type of hair loss that’s responsible for classic symptoms like a receding hairline or a thin spot around your crown.

  • Telogen effluvium. This is a form of temporary, sudden hair loss that occurs when many hairs enter the telogen phase of the hair growth cycle at once. It can be triggered by an illness, infection, surgery, hormonal change, nutritional issue or severe stress.
    Unlike male pattern baldness, which usually causes a receding hairline or bald patch at the crown, telogen effluvium usually causes diffuse hair thinning across the scalp.

  • Anagen effluvium. This is a form of temporary hair loss that’s caused by exposure to a toxic substance, such as heavy metals or certain medications. It’s often associated with medications used in cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy drugs.

  • Alopecia areata. This is a form of autoimmune hair loss in which your immune system targets and attacks your hair follicles. It’s common in people with autoimmune diseases, including conditions such as psoriasis and vitiligo.

  • Traction alopecia. This is a form of scarring hair loss that develops when there’s a firm, continuous pulling force on your hair. It may develop if you wear your hair in a style that puts pressure on your hair roots, such as dreadlocks or cornrows.

  • Tinea capitis. This is a type of fungal infection that can affect your scalp. It’s referred to as scalp ringworm and can cause patchy hair loss. When severe, this type of infection can cause inflammation and damage your hair follicles, causing permanent hair loss.

To determine the cause of your hair loss, your healthcare provider will likely examine your scalp to look for a specific hair loss pattern, skin inflammation or other symptoms that may suggest a certain root cause. 

Most of the time, male pattern baldness can be diagnosed just by looking at your pattern of hair loss. If your hairline shows obvious signs of androgenetic alopecia, you may be diagnosed on the spot without any need for further tests. 

In addition to examining your scalp, your healthcare provider may ask you questions about your symptoms. You may be asked:

  • When you first started to notice symptoms

  • How your hairline has changed over the years

  • If you’ve ever noticed sudden, significant hair shedding 

  • How you care for your hair, including specific hair care habits

  • Which hair care and styling products you use on a regular basis

  • If you have a medical condition or use any medications 

  • Other questions related to your hair and general health

Try to let your healthcare provider know as much as possible. The more you can tell them about your hair loss and general health, the better equipped they’ll be to accurately determine the root cause of your hair loss and suggest an effective form of treatment. 

Pull Test for Hair Loss

As part of the hair loss diagnosis process, your healthcare provider may perform a pull test — a quick, in-office test that’s used to see if you’re shedding hair at the moment. 

To perform a pull test, your healthcare provider will grasp 20 to 60 hairs in their fingers and pull on them carefully. A positive pull test occurs when more than 10 percent of the pulled hairs are shed from your scalp. 

A negative pull test occurs when less than 10 percent of the hairs pulled on by your healthcare provider are shed. Your healthcare provider might use this information to determine if you have active, ongoing hair loss and to assess your treatment options.

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Other Tests for Hair Loss

In some cases, your healthcare provider may use other types of diagnostic tests to identify the type of hair loss you’re experiencing. These include:

  • Blood testing. You may be asked to provide a blood sample for analysis. This type of test can help to detect hormonal issues or nutritional deficiencies that may contribute to shedding and hair loss.

  • Scalp biopsy. This type of test involves removing a small section of your skin with a surgical knife or punch tool. Analyzing your skin sample can detect infections and skin diseases that may cause or contribute to hair loss. 

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How to Treat Hair Loss

Almost all types of hair loss can be treated. If you’ve been diagnosed with a form of hair loss, your healthcare provider may recommend one or several treatment options, such as hair loss medication, changes to your lifestyle or a procedure to restore your hair. 

Hair Loss Medication

If you have male pattern baldness, you can either slow down, stop or reverse your hair loss by using medication. 

Currently, the most effective medications for treating and preventing male pattern baldness are finasteride and minoxidil. Both are approved by the FDA and supported by large-scale studies showing improvements in hair density. 

Finasteride is a prescription oral medication. It works by preventing your body from converting testosterone into dihydrotestosterone — a hormone that can harm your hair follicles and cause hair thinning. 

Research shows that finasteride works well at treating and preventing hair loss, especially with long-term use. 

In a 10-year study published in the journal Clinical Research and Trials, researchers found that 91 percent of men with hair loss showed improvements in hair growth after using finasteride on a daily basis. 

A large-scale study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology also had a similar outcome, with men showing a clinically significant increase in hair count after using an oral finasteride treatment over a period of one to two years. 

Because finasteride works by reducing DHT levels, it’s only effective at treating hair loss caused by DHT. This means that it’s not used to treat telogen effluvium, traction alopecia, or other forms of hair loss that are unrelated to sex hormone levels. 

We offer finasteride online, following a consultation with a licensed healthcare provider who will determine if a prescription is appropriate. 

Minoxidil is a topical medication. It works by moving your hair follicles into the anagen phase of the hair growth cycle, during which your hair actively grows to its full length. It also stimulates blood flow to your scalp hair, which may help to promote hair regrowth.

Research shows that minoxidil works effectively as a treatment for male pattern baldness, while also offering benefits for other types of hair loss. In one study, researchers found that minoxidil and finasteride are particularly effective for male pattern baldness when used together.

Unlike finasteride, minoxidil can be purchased without a prescription. We offer minoxidil solution and minoxidil foam online. You can also purchase minoxidil, finasteride and other treatments for hair loss together in our Hair Power Pack

In some cases, your healthcare provider might prescribe other medications to treat scalp health issues that can cause or contribute to hair loss. These may include:

  • Antifungal creams, shampoos or oral medications

  • Medications for thyroid disease (low or high thyroid hormone levels)

  • Steroid creams or oral corticosteroids

  • Vitamins, minerals and/or nutritional supplements

If you’re prescribed medication, make sure to closely follow your healthcare provider’s directions and use it only as prescribed. Inform your healthcare provider if you have any side effects or feel like your medication isn’t working effectively. 

Habits and Lifestyle Changes

Although male pattern baldness usually requires treatment with medication, some forms of hair loss may improve with changes to your habits, lifestyle and general hair care routine. 

Try the following habits to promote healthy hair growth and reduce hair loss:

  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Some nutrient deficiencies, such as iron deficiency or low protein intake, can cause diffuse hair loss. Try to maintain a balanced diet that’s rich in fresh fruits, vegetables and lean sources of protein.
    Our guide to the best foods to eat for hair growth shares tasty, easily available foods that you can add to your diet for healthier, thicker hair.

  • Consider switching hairstyles. If you have traction alopecia, try changing to a hairstyle that doesn’t pull on your hair follicles. It’s particularly important to wear your hair loosely while you sleep in order to avoid broken hairs and other forms of damage.

  • Wash your hair carefully. Pick a gentle shampoo and apply conditioner every time you wash your hair. If you’re prone to broken hair shafts, try using a leave-in conditioner for extra strength and protection.

  • Avoid excessive brushing. You don’t need to brush your hair frequently to keep it thick and healthy. Only brush your hair when you need to in order to style it, and try to brush as gently as you can to limit damage to your hair shaft or thinning of hair. 

Our guide to preventing hair loss shares other tips that you can use to promote growth, reduce thinning and keep your hair looking its best. 

Hair Transplant Surgery

If your hair loss is severe, or if you’d like to permanently restore your hairline or crown, you may want to look into hair transplant surgery — a cosmetic procedure that involves relocating healthy, DHT-resistant hairs from the back and sides of your scalp to areas with visible hair loss.

Although hair transplant surgery can be costly, it offers significant results and can help to restore coverage and density in areas affected by male pattern baldness. 

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Learn More About Treating Hair Loss

Hair loss is an inevitable part of life for most men, but that doesn’t mean that you need to accept it when it occurs for you. 

If you’re concerned about hair loss, you can get help by meeting with your primary care provider or scheduling an appointment with a dermatologist. 

You can also access our complete selection of hair loss treatments online, including medications such as finasteride and minoxidil

Interested in learning more about how hair loss treatments work? Our guide to what you should know about finasteride explains how this common hair loss medication works, from the forms of hair loss it treats to dosages, potential side effects and more. 

17 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

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  3. Hughes, E.C., Saleh, D. (2021, June 8). Telogen Effluvium. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430848/
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  6. Heath, C.R., Robinson, C.N. & Kundu, R.V. (n.d.). Traction Alopecia. Retrieved from https://skinofcolorsociety.org/patient-dermatology-education/traction-alopecia/
  7. Al Aboud, A.M. & Crane, J.S. (2021, August 11). Tinea Capitis. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK536909/
  8. Male pattern baldness. (2021, April 14). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001177.htm
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  11. Yanagisawa, M., et al. (2019). Long-term (10-year) efficacy of finasteride in 523 Japanese men with androgenetic alopecia. Clinical Research and Trials. 5, 1-5. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/337105943_Long-term_10-year_efficacy_of_finasteride_in_523_Japanese_men_with_androgenetic_alopecia
  12. Kaufman, K.D., et al. (1998, October). Finasteride in the treatment of men with androgenetic alopecia. Finasteride Male Pattern Hair Loss Study Group. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 39 (4 Pt 1), 578-89. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9777765/
  13. Badri, T., Nessel, T.A. & Kumar, D.D. (2021, December 19). Minoxidil. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482378/
  14. Suchonwanit, P., Thammarucha, S. & Leerunyakul, K. (2019). Minoxidil and its use in hair disorders: a review. Drug Design, Development and Therapy. 13, 2777–2786. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6691938/
  15. Hu, R., et al. (2015). Combined treatment with oral finasteride and topical minoxidil in male androgenetic alopecia: a randomized and comparative study in Chinese patients. Dermatologic Therapy. 28 (5), 303-308. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/dth.12246
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This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.