Tag Archives: WebMD

Hair today, gone tomorrow: hair loss, celiac disease, and a WebMD-style battle of the sexes

I’ve been posting a lot of serious stuff lately, so I thought I’d take a break to talk about something fun: hair loss.

I’ve always had thick hair. Like every other girl and probably plenty of guys, I’ve always wished it were different. When it was stick-straight, I longed for curls. When by the magic of hormones it went curly, I started straightening it. But never have I wished it were thinner.

Unfortunately, wishes don’t have much to do with it.

A couple of months ago, it became clear: I was shedding. Not a normal amount, but an “Is there even any left?” amount.

Okay, not quite this bad. Photo © boris drenec | Flickr

Okay, it was never quite this bad.
Photo © boris drenec | Flickr

“Your hair is everywhere,” Althea said. And she was right. It was on my pillow, my sweaters, my jacket, my desk and chair at work. It coated the floor like carpet and landed in most dishes of food I touched (you can gag, it’s okay).

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, everyone bids farewell to 50 to 100 strands of hair over the course of an average day. I’m pretty sure that’s how many I remove from the shower drain each morning.

Hair loss—like bloating—is associated with just about everything, including normal aging. And it’s not just for men; 40 percent of women show visible signs of hair thinning by age 40. And, like bloating, it’s upsetting.

In a rare departure from its usual brisk style, WebMD explains, of women:

Unfortunately, society has forced women to suffer in silence. It is considered far more acceptable for men to go through the same hair loss process. . . . the psychological damage caused by hair loss and feeling unattractive can be just as devastating as any serious disease, and in fact, can take an emotional toll that directly affects physical health.

and, of men:

Contrary to societal belief, most men who suffer from male pattern baldness are extremely unhappy with their situation and would do anything to change it. Hair loss affects every aspect of their life. It affects interpersonal relationships as well as their professional life. It is not uncommon for men to change their career paths because of hair loss.

Am I the only one who imagines these articles were written by one sad balding female staffer and one sad balding male staffer without consulting one another?

Anyway. When my problem showed no signs of going away on its own, I got a doctor’s appointment and, from there, a dermatology referral. The dermatologist took a two-second look at my hair, plucked out a strand, and started talking about “telogen effluvium” and “androgenic alopecia.” Finally, my ears caught a word I knew: “Rogaine.” Oh my god.

“So…it’s definitely falling out?”

“Yup!” the doctor replied, cheerfully, for all the world as if he’d never read that WebMD article about how distressing this was for me.

He went on: “Diseases sometimes accelerate stuff like this. You probably would have lost it anyway, but it’s happening four or five decades early because of celiac disease.”

I nodded, wide-eyed, and wailed internally, My hair, my beautiful hair!

Meanwhile, the good doctor concluded with a flourish: “Diseases suck!”

Got that right.

He wasn’t able to say why this would have developed months after I went gluten-free, or even if my “alopecia, unspecified” was definitely linked to celiac. He was able to give me a shampoo prescription, a few blood tests, and a “See me in six months.”

After that, there wasn’t much to do except pick up my (exorbitantly priced) shampoo, console myself with candy corn, take my new favorite doc’s advice, and wait. But I did ignore one piece of his guidance. He said cutting my hair wouldn’t help, but I’d had enough of finding it everywhere. So I marched myself into the salon, told the stylist to take it all off, and emerged with a new ‘do.

So it's still falling out. But at least shorter pieces of it are falling out.

It’s still falling out. But at least shorter pieces of it are falling out.

Having taken some decisive action, I immediately felt less “psychologically damaged.” 

A couple days later, the doctor’s receptionist called. “Your ferritin levels are low,” she said. “You need to take iron.”

Though they aren’t so low as to be out of the reference (normal) range, it seems they are low enough to be of dermatological concern. Some kind of nonstandard iron deficiency might also—I’m conjecturing, i.e., making this up—explain why I’ve never gotten that mystical gluten-free energy boost.

But who knows? I ordered my 324 mgs, and I’ll let you know in six months.

Till then, I’ll be rocking my new lack of hair. It’s a boon, really, because it opens the door to a whole new world of Halloween costumes, like this one:

Happy Halloween eve! May you receive only treats, no mean dermatological tricks.

Have you ever experienced hair loss from celiac, or from something else? How do you cope? And what are you dressing up as for Halloween tomorrow?

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On time management

To-do lists are great. In fact, 96 percent of people who keep them say their lives are better with to-do lists. (Go figure.) I think I’m part of that 96 percent, but I’m certainly among the 50 percent who write down tasks they’ve already done just to be able to cross them off. I can’t help it; it’s thrilling.

Herewith, then, my most recent list.

Today I:

checked2Looked up my latest symptoms on WebMD

checked2Learned more than I remotely wanted to know about “pulsatile tinnitus

checked2Cross-examined self for evidence of hypochondria

checked2Decided symptoms actually exist

checked2Complained about symptoms

checked2Blogged about symptoms

checked2Tweeted about symptoms

checked2Googled autoimmune diseases associated with celiac diseases

checked2Remembered a few other symptoms and Googled those, too

checked2Tried to determine whether my hair is thinning

checked2Decided it’s too soon to tell

checked2Worried anyway

checked2Searched insurance database for PCP in my new neighborhood

checked2Got discouraged with system and switched to Google

checked2Bemoaned lack of reliable Yelplike system for finding new doctors

checked2Got discouraged again and gave up for the day

Tomorrow I’ll:

unchecked box

Actually do something about it.

Despite appearances, this post was not sponsored by Google. Do you spend more hours Googling things than solving them? If not, how do you manage your time (and self-care)? Do you keep a to-do list? Check anything good off lately?

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Why don’t doctors just talk to each other?

You know that old conversation starter/essay prompt, “If you had to pick five people, famous or not, dead or alive, real or imaginary, to invite to a dinner party, who would you choose?”

There are variations with different numbers and types of people, but the question’s basic thrust, I think, always comes down to a mix of “Who do you most want to talk to?” and “Who do you most want to talk to each other?” In other words, what combination of people in all the world and all of history do you feel would produce the most interesting dialogue?

This question was an option for my college admissions essay. I didn’t choose it, probably because I feared my taste in famous and historical companions would not pass muster. I’m still not sure it would, even after my four years of cultural grooming.

But lately I’ve been thinking about it again, not so much in terms of a fantastic philosophical discussion I could arrange, but in terms of a conversation I could trigger that would have immense utility for me personally. What if, a couple years ago, I’d thrown a dinner party for all of my different doctors—my old general practitioner, the emergency room doc I saw one time, the gastroenterologist who prescribed OTC medication, the ob-gyn, the dentist—and proposed the conversation starter “Diagnose Molly”? (Personal health makes for great dinner conversation.)

Could they have done it? Could they have laid out all my different symptoms on the table and connected the dots, instead of each focusing myopically on a different piece of my health? Or would they refuse to talk to each other, kick each other under the table, pick at their meals? Would the GP look down on the GI doc and the emergency room doc fixate on his beeper and the dentist drift into fantasies of his future yacht?

Maybe they’d manage it if I threw a celiac disease expert in there. Or gave them access to WebMD.

Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if instead of a splintered, segmented health care system, we had doctors who spoke to one another? Of course, doctors have so many other patients to deal with that they would never have time for a little conference focused just on me.

But what if they . . . you know . . . shared their records with one another in an organized way, using the advanced technology we have available for preserving and sharing information? Might that not have helped? Might the pieces not have come together faster?

Is that such a fantasy? Is it science fiction? If you ask me, it shouldn’t be.

I’m off to Washington, DC, today to visit my brother and see some cherry blossoms. Have a nice weekend, and tell me who you’d invite to a dinner party if you could pick any five people.

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Remember you are not the doctor.

Photo © Josh Clark | Flickr Creative Commons

Photo © Josh Clark | Flickr Creative Commons

Doctors’ receptionists have a tough job. They deal with stressed, unhappy, contagious people all day, and when they aren’t doing that, they file and photocopy paperwork, deal with ancient fax machines, and, I bet, put up with crap from the doctors. I’ve read that some offices don’t even provide their front-desk staff with internet access—which, to me, is practically a human rights violation. They probably get ill constantly from all the germs, and when they aren’t physically sick, they’re sick of their job.

Knowing this, I try not to be one of “those” patients. I’d say I’m pretty friendly, and I know I’m polite. In return, I hope for civility and, ideally, a bit of compassion. In my most recent medical experiences, I’ve encountered neither. My doctor never called me with my positive bloodwork results, and when I scheduled a follow-up, he and his staff forgot to check my results until I asked about them specifically. They were brusque and unapologetic and they sent me a duplicate copay bill.

When the time came to get my biopsy results, I didn’t want to go in and do it all over again (not to mention pay another copay or two). Instead, I tried to find everything out over the phone, and it got messy. In the end, the receptionist got fed up with me and said, “Remember, ma’am, you are not the doctor.”

This stuck with me, and not only because I found it funny that she called little ole 23-year-old me ma’am. It was also simply good advice. As I gear up for my first appointment with a brand-new doctor, I thought I’d share it. If you are a doctor, this may not apply to you. But otherwise:

Remember you are not the doctor.

Remember you do not have the doctor’s medical training, or credentials. Remember that to many, your understanding of your own health will never count. Remember you are presumed ignorant. Remember if you speculate or self-diagnose, you will be accused of hypochondria. Remember that not everything you’ve read or heard is true. Remember you may be biased, and remember fear can cloud your judgment.

But also: Remember it’s okay to be scared.

Remember to stay calm. Remember you care more about your health than anyone could who is paid to do so. Remember you have spent many recent hours researching your symptoms, and that if your doctor hasn’t kept up with latest research, you may in fact be better informed. Remember you are open to new ideas. Remember you do not have hundreds of other patients to keep track of. Remember you are focused. Remember you are the world’s leading expert on your own medical history and feelings.

Remember you are you.

Remember it is you, and not your doctor, who must live with whatever treatment—or lack of treatment—you’re prescribed. Remember you can seek a second opinion, or a third, or a tenth. Remember instinct counts for something, too. Remember it is easier for you to walk out on your doctor than for your doctor to walk out on you. Remember you’re worth more than a copay. Remember there are people rooting for you or relying on you to get well. Remember you are your own best advocate, but you are not your only advocate.

Remember you are loved.

Remember you are smart, and strong, and beautiful, and kind, and worthy, and interesting, and special, and whatever else you need to remind yourself of before you walk into the waiting room for your next appointment; but for God’s sake, remember you are not the doctor.

And remember you’re important anyway.

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