Does Wellbutrin Cause Hair Loss?

Hair Loss (Alopecia) on Wellbutrin (Bupropion) - Type and Timing

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Can the antidepressant drug Wellbutrin (bupropion) cause hair loss?. 4FR/Getty Images

Have you been wondering whether or not the antidepressant Wellbutrin may cause hair loss? What might cause the loss of hair—also called alopecia—on Wellbutrin (bupropion) and other antidepressants?  Does this mean you need to stop taking your medication even if it is working well?

Wellbutrin (Bupropion) - Uses and Advantages

Wellbutrin (bupropion) is a commonly prescribed medication. It is used for clinical depression, but also for smoking cessation (marketed under the name Zyban.)

One reason Wellbutrin is commonly used is that it has a lower risk of the bedroom blues on antidepressants such as erectile dysfunction, lack of desire, or difficulty with arousal or orgasm.

Hair Loss (Alopecia) on Wellbutrin (Bupropion)

Hair loss can be a side effect of treatment with Wellburtin. According to the manufacturer of Wellbutrin, Glaxo Smith Kline, hair loss is an infrequent side effect of this medication occurring in somewhere between one in 100 and one in 1000 people who take the medication. Hair loss is not limited to Wellbutrin, and other antidepressants may cause hair loss as well.

When Does the Hair Loss Occur?

Hair loss related to antidepressant medications is commonly noted around six months after starting or changing a medication. With the type of hair loss known as telogen effluvium (discussed more below), hair loss commonly begins three to four months after a trigger (such as stress, a medical condition, or a medication change.)

What Type of Hair Loss is Related to Wellbutrin and Why Does it Occur?

To understand the type of hair loss related to Wellbutrin, it helps to talk about the phases of the hair cycle. Our hair actually goes through four distinct phases between the "birth" of a hair and when it falls out, known as anagen, catagen, telogen, and exogen.

The first phase, anagen, determines how long hair will become and lasts from two to six years. Nearly 90 percent of the hairs on your head are in the anagen phase.

Catagen is the next and shorter transition phase in which the hair follicle loses it's blood supply and stops growing. It then enters the telogen phase of the hair cycle where it stays for three or four months before exogen, the final phase in which the hair is shed. Around 10 percent of your hair is normally in the telogen phase, but this can be much higher if your hair is prematurely shifted to the telogen phase by a physical or emotional stressor (such as Wellbutrin.)

The type of hair loss experienced by some people on Wellbutrin as well as other antidepressants is termed telogen effluvium. Telogen effluvium occurs when the body is stressed (or shocked) in a number of ways. You may have heard people talk about hair loss occurring after childbirth or after a major surgery. Other conditions which may result in this type of hair loss include an illness, mental stress, poor nutrition, crash dieting, or starting a number of different medications. It is characterized by widespread thinning of the hair and often more hair loss occurs near the front of the head, above the forehead.

Telogen effluvium occurs when hair follicles go into their resting state of growth (telogen) too early and stay there. Since a larger than normal number of hair follicles are in the telogen phase, hair loss can occur diffusely, all over the scalp. Humans normally shed around 100 hairs daily, but this number can be greatly increased with telogen effluvium.

Is Hair Loss on Antidepressants Temporary or Permanent?

The good news is that hair loss on Wellbutrin is temporary and completely reversible. There are several distinct types of telogen effluvium, with that related to Wellbutrin being a temporary condition caused by a temporary disruption in the hair cycle.

There is another type of telogen effluvium in which the trigger (whatever caused the disrupted hair cycle) is ongoing. Some people with thyroid problems or nutritional deficiencies experience this type of telogen effluvium instead, which is more gradual but lasts longer.

Other Possible Causes of Hair Loss in People with Depression

As noted earlier, the type of hair loss found with Wellbutrin may occur with any major physical or mental stress on your body. This includes the mental stress of clinical depression, or whatever event precipitated depression in someone with a situational depression.

Do You Have to Stop the Medication for the Hair Loss to Resolve

You may need to stop taking your medication in order to stop your hair loss. If you do not wish to discontinue your medication, however, talk with your doctor about the possibility of taking a lower dose of your medication or changing to a different brand of bupropion.

It could be that you are reacting to one of the  inactive ingredient ingredients in the pill, rather than the bupropion itself. An inactive ingredient is not a compound that has no actions; the term inactive simply means that the ingredient does not play a role in the purpose for which the medication is prescribed. These inactive ingredients have been known to cause side effects as well as allergic reactions at times. If this is the case, it could be that your hair loss is caused only by the generic version of the drug, or vice versa.

Keep in mind that it may also be another trigger causing your hair loss which occurred at the same time (or near to the same time) at which you started the medication. Stress alone may sometimes cause telogen effluvium.

That said, stopping Wellbutrin is the surest way of stopping your hair loss.

How Long Does the Hair Loss Last?

Thankfully, telogen effluvium hair loss usually resolves in around six months after the stressor which started the process is removed. For example, without any intervention hair loss usually resolves around six months after delivery of a baby, after the resolution of an illness, or six months after a new medication is stopped.

Is There Anything You Can Do to Prevent or Stop Your Hair Loss?

There is nothing, such as using a special shampoo or other way of caring for your hair, which can prevent telogen effluvium or stop the process. Working to decrease stress in your life, however, many reduce one of the triggers for this kind of hair loss.

Other Side Effects of Wellbutrin (Bupropion)

In addition to the uncommon side effect of hair loss, there are some common side effects of Wellbutrin. Unfortunately, most antidepressants carry the risk of side effects, and you will need to work with your doctor to balance these side effects with the benefits you get from the medication.

Bottom Line on Hair Loss with Wellbutrin (Bupropion)

The bottom line on hair loss with Wellbutrin is that it may occur, but it is a temporary, not a permanent condition. There are other options available for treating depression with medications, so that even if you need to stop a medication which was working, there are other categories available. There are also several options to help you cope with hair loss that is already present ranging from different hair styles to wearing a scarf or wig.

Sources:

Malkud, S. Telogen Effluvium: A Review. Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research. 2015. 9(9):WE01-WE03.

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