Androgenetic Alopecia or Female Pattern Hair Loss in PCOS

Definition and Treatments of This Distressing Condition

Hair loss.Hands holding a comb full of hair fallen
Sol de Zuasnabar Brebbia/Getty Images

Even though some women have thicker than normal hair growth on their face or the rest of their bodies, many women with PCOS have problems with thinning scalp hair, known as androgenetic alopecia or more recently, female pattern hair loss. This is usually due to the high levels of androgens which are found in women with PCOS.

What is Female Pattern Hair Loss?

Female pattern hair loss is characterized by a loss of hair density at frontal and vertex regions of the scalp (the top).

Hair ultimately becomes thinner and shorter in these areas -- there is not complete baldness, as seen in men. 

The big difference between hair loss in a male and androgenetic alopecia in women with PCOS is that in women with PCOS, the hair follicle remains alive. The good news is that this increases the chance that hair loss therapy will work and cause new hair growth.

It's important to note that while androgenetic alopecia or female pattern hair loss can be seen in women with medical conditions that promote high androgen levels in the body, like PCOS, this type of hair loss is actually more common in postmenopausal women -- and their androgen levels are usually normal. So it's likely that the development of female pattern hair loss involves a complex hormonal interplay including both androgens and estrogen (estrogen is low after menopause). Other factors may play a role as well, like a woman's genes.


Treating Female Pattern Hair Loss

Currently, there is only one over-the-counter, topical treatment for female pattern hair loss, known as Rogaine (topical minoxidil). Rogaine will not cure PCOS-related hair loss, but it can help manage it. Keep in mind that once you stop using it, the hair loss may re-occur.


Other medications that work directly on the sex hormones are sometimes tried, especially if a person does not notice hair regrowth with Rogaine or if they have high levels of androgens on a blood test. That being said, there are not currently a lot of scientific studies supporting their use in female pattern hair loss yet. These medications include:

  • Spironolactone, a diuretic that also has anti-androgenic properties. Spirinolactone is commonly used in combination with birth control pills in women with PCOS, and it can be used along with Rogaine.
  • Finasteride, a medication most often prescribed to inhibit prostate growth in older men, is often used off-label for hair loss in women. It works by preventing testosterone from binding to receptors on hair follicles. It's absolutely essential to take Finasteride in addition to an oral contraceptive because of the potential damaging effects on a pregnancy.
  • Flutamide is also an anti-androgenic medication that prevents androgens from interacting with its receptors on hair follicles. You should not become pregnant or breastfeed while taking this medication. It's not commonly used in the United States due to the potential risk for toxicity.

    Some people also choose surgery, called hair transplantation surgery, especially if the cosmetic effect of their hair loss is distressing and medications are not effective enough. 

    Bottom Line

    If hair loss is bothering you, be sure to speak with your primary care doctor or endocrinologist. He can help find a treatment that will minimize hair loss and maybe even help regrow hair. Your doctor will also want to confirm the diagnosis of androgenic alopecia. Sometimes, there are other reasons for your hair loss like a thyroid hormone deficiency or nutritional deficiency. Or your doctor may refer you to a dermatologist for further evaluation and therapy. 


    Futterweit, W. (October 2011).  A Patient's Guide: Management of Hair Loss in Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. 

    DISCLAIMER: The information in this site is for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

    Continue Reading