Q: What is “shock fall out”? – D.B., Chappaqua, N.Y.
A: Shedding after a hair transplant is also referred to by the very ominous sounding term “shock fall out.” The correct medical term is “effluvium” which literally means shedding. It is usually the miniaturized hair (i.e. the hair that is at the end of its lifespan due to genetic balding) that is most likely to be shed. Less likely, some healthy hair will be shed, but this should re-grow.
Interestingly, if transplants are spaced less than one year apart, one often notices some shedding of the hair from the first transplant, but this hair grows back completely. For most patients, effluvium is not a major issue and should not be a cause for concern.
Typically, when shedding occurs, a patient looks a little thinner during the several month period following the transplant, before the transplanted hair has started to grow. The thinning is often more noticeable to the patient than to others. Shedding is generally noted as a thinning, rather than of “masses of hair falling out,” as the term “shock fall out” erroneously suggests.
In general, the more miniaturization one has and the more rapid the hair loss, the more likely shedding will be from the hair restoration surgery. Young, actively balding patients would be at the greatest risk. Older patients with stable hair loss would have the least risk. In either situation, since miniaturized hair is eventually going to be lost, the effluvium has no long-term effect on the outcome of the procedure.
It is important to differentiate the phenomena described above from shedding of the hair in the graft. This shedding is an almost universal characteristic of a hair transplant and occurs because during a hair transplant a graft is temporarily stripped of its blood supply. As a response to this insult, the graft sheds its hair. This shedding is generally noted beginning a week following the procedure and can continue for up to six weeks. A very small percentage of patients do not shed and the transplanted hair continues to grow. In others, the transplanted hair remains on the scalp for months until a new hair pushes it out. Whether a patient sheds or not has no bearing on the outcome of the hair restoration.
There are a number of ways to minimize the effects of post-operative shedding: the first is using medication, the second is timing the transplant properly, and the third is performing a procedure using a sufficient number of grafts.
Finasteride 1mg reverses or halts the miniaturization process in many individuals and is thus the logical way to decrease the risk of shedding following a transplant. Although many physicians have had the clinical impression that this assumption is correct, there has been no controlled studies to date that prove this.
• Timing and the size of the transplant
It is important to wait until a patient is ready to have a transplant, and then to perform one of sufficient size so that if there is some shedding, the procedure will more than compensate for it – and thus be worthwhile. A problem that patients often run into is that they present to their doctor with early hair loss but with a significant amount of miniaturization. The doctor performs a small procedure and it does not even compensate either for potential shedding or for progression of the hair loss. The result is that the patient is thinner (or more bald) than he was before the procedure. The doctor rarely blames the problem on the fact that the procedure was too small or that the miniaturization was not taken into account, but only that the patient continued to bald. The better solution is to treat early hair loss with medication, but once you make a decision to begin surgery, have a procedure large enough to make a significant cosmetic improvement.
• Performing the procedure using a sufficient number of grafts
As a final point, it is a fallacy that some doctors’ techniques are so impeccable that they can avoid effluvium or those “small” procedures will avoid shedding. Of course, bad techniques and rough handling will maximize effluvium, but effluvium is what hair naturally does when the scalp is stressed and it is stressed during a transplant from the anesthetic mixture and the recipient site creation. It is important to note that it cannot be totally prevented. Despite claims to the contrary, Follicular Unit Extraction has no bearing on this process as it is a harvesting rather than a placing technique.
In sum, the best way to deal with effluvium is:
- Treat with Finasteride — the active chemical in the hair loss drug Propecia — when hair loss is early
- Perform a hair transplant only when indicated
- Perform a hair transplant with skill and using a sufficient number of grafts