Most of us are afraid of surgery. It’s the last option to solve health problems, only accepted by patients when they don’t have much of a choice. This feeling may arise for many reasons: the idea of a scalpel cutting the skin, the anesthesia and the unconsciousness it brings about, and a painful recovery period with a wound that needs constant care to prevent infections.
But even when everything goes right and recovery is fast enough, some people experience unexpected side effects on the long term. If you notice your hair starts falling after surgery, you may wonder if that is just another side effect. Can anesthetics affect your scalp? And what can you do about it?
Is having a Hair Transplant good or bad?
The case of hair loss after surgery
To start with, it is not usual to start losing your hair after you come from the surgery room. What’s more, finding one such a case would be an unlikely scenario many years ago, and would be known as a case to be studied by a handful of specialists. In later years, experiencing hair loss after surgery has been identified as a potential –yet uncommon- side effect and may be caused by two different conditions.
- Pressure alopecia: It is an infrequent condition in which people who undergo a long surgery with head immobilization or a prolonged stay in bed would experience ulceration, swelling and tenderness in the scalp. This happens because the pressure of staying in one position without turning alters the normal blood flow for a very long time. Can Alopecia be cured?
- Telogen effluvium: Telogen effluvium is a type of hair loss triggered by chronic stress, a traumatic or stressful event. Hair loss after anesthetics is considered to be a subtype of Telogen effluvium in which the stressful event of being in a surgery room along with the alterations in the consciousness and nervous system from the anesthetics trigger a series of events in the scalp resulting in hair thinning and hair loss. Telogen effluvium is quite common, but surgery and the use of anesthetics is not a likely cause. It is important to know that this type of hair loss does not respond to any specific component in the anesthesia. Instead, it results from the effects of general anesthesia in your body.
Find out more about Hair Loss AFTER surgery here
Anesthesia and stress. Is there any link to hair loss?
Most people would not understand how can anyone be stressed if they are laying down unconscious in a surgery room. Everybody knows how nervous people feel before entering, but during the intervention they won’t even realize the clock is ticking. However, the anticipatory stress is nothing compared to the amount of stress your body endures during the surgery itself. Even if your consciousness is sedated, your body is still reacting to the procedure and trying to defend itself from an unknown source of hazard.
Even if you feel anesthesia calms you down, your body has a different perception. Your organism is in fight-or-flight mode, and anesthesia is just another intruder blocking nerve signals and obstructing your body from escaping the harm. As a result, the organs –your skin included- starts sending distress signals that would create a mounting sensation of stress in your nervous system.
So, what’s the link between all of this and hair loss? You have probably heard of people whose hair starts falling when they feel stressed out. As we mentioned earlier, hair loss caused by telogen effluvium has many triggers, and the most important is stress. As you can see, what could be more stressful for your nervous system that undergoing surgery and having general anesthetics? So, it is not a specific component in anesthetics the one to blame, it’s the whole process of being sedated and experiencing surgery that could result in hair loss.
Telogen effluvium is a common cause of hair loss, but it is usually triggered by traumatic events or psychological stress. Experiencing hair loss after surgery was a rare side effect for many years, but has been recognized and studied recently as it becomes more common. The reason behind this might be the stepping rise of stress in our modern life. Nowadays, we are subject to many sources of stress every day, and if we add surgery to the equation, there’s no wonder why it is becoming an increasingly important side effect to take into consideration. But, what can we do about it? Is there any way to prevent it or treat it?
Preventing hair loss after surgery
Psychological stress being the most important cause of telogen effluvium, it becomes clear that preventing stress would also improve hair quality. Avoiding stressful situations can be quite challenging in the world we live in, but it can be accomplished. Here’s a few tips to combat stress:
- Try meditation: Meditation has proven to be a good way to avoid stress. There are different types of meditation, but they all aim at keeping your mind focused and quiet. Doing this as a preparation before surgery and afterwards will lower the chance of getting this undesirable side effect.
- Learn breathing techniques: They are very useful to be used in the moment you are feeling overwhelmed by stress. So, if you are planning your surgery, practice breathing techniques and read about them beforehand so you can be prepared to use those techniques when you need them.
- Take action: Sometimes, staying in one place and calming down makes people feel even more nervous and stressed. If that’s your case, you need to burn that energy. But in the moment you feel high levels of stress don’t choose activities that would make it worse. Dance, sing, go running, workout, keep your mind active.
Still worried? Any alternatives to Surgey? Yes!
We discuss the best non-surgery hair loss treatments here. Take into consideration that hair loss after surgery or induced by anesthesia is a reversible problem. You will get back to your normal self, but it will take a few months. Try not to feel desperate about it, and remember this added source of stress can worsen your chances of getting your hair back.
Goldstein, B. G., & Goldstein, A. O. (1997). Practical dermatology . St. Louis, MO: Mosby.
Kim, J. H., Lew, B. L., & Sim, W. Y. (2015). Localized telogen effluvium after face lift surgery. Annals of dermatology, 27(1), 119-120.
Loh, S. H., Lew, B. L., & Sim, W. Y. (2018). Localized Telogen Effluvium Following Hair Transplantation. Annals of dermatology, 30(2), 214-217.
Desai, S. P., & Roaf, E. R. (1984). Telogen effluvium after anesthesia and surgery. Anesthesia & Analgesia, 63(1), 83-84.