The goal of hair restoration surgery is to permanently transplant hair from one area of the head to another. When done well, the surgery provides patients with a natural solution to male or female pattern baldness. There are some issues or complications that can occur after the surgery, though. One issue is known as shock loss, which refers to the loss of seemingly healthy hairs from either the donor site or the site of the transplant after the surgery.
Shock loss can occur for a few reasons. It can be upsetting to see healthy hair fall out, especially if you’ve just had surgery to prevent or reverse hair loss. But, in most cases the hair will grow back. There are even ways to prevent shock loss.
The Difference Between Shedding and Shock Loss
It’s important to understand that shock loss isn’t the same as the natural shedding that occurs after a hair transplant. After your surgery, you will most likely lose the newly transplanted hair after a few weeks. That’s part of the process and isn’t an issue. The transplanted hair will start to regrow after another few weeks, at which point you can expect to see about a 1/2 inch of hair growth every month.
Shock loss doesn’t happen to the transplanted hair. Instead, it occurs in hair that was otherwise healthy before the surgery. In some cases, shock loss occurs due to an error on the part of the surgeon. It can also happen if the donor hair follicles were starting to miniaturize before the transplant.
Why It Happens
Some methods of hair restoration surgery are more likely to trigger shock loss than others. Although follicular unit extraction (FUE) is the more technologically advanced method of hair restoration, the method is more likely to lead to the loss of some hairs in the donor area. During FUE, hair is removed from the donor area using pneumatic pressure to "punch" the hair out the scalp.
Follicular unit transplant using the strip technique is less likely to cause shock loss in the donor area. But, there are certain aspects of the surgery that can increase a patient’s risk for shock loss. If the surgeon attempts to harvest a large number of grafts at a single time and then doesn’t close the strip correctly, permanent hair loss can occur in the area.
Shock loss can also occur in the recipient area of the scalp. In some cases, the hair loss can simply be a natural part of the process. For example, the follicles of the existing hair might have become miniaturized already and the stress of the surgery is enough to push them out. The way the surgeon transplants the new hair can also cause existing hairs to shed. The miniaturized hairs would have fallen out on their own with time, the surgery just pushed them along in the process.
If the surgeon transplants the grafts too closely or makes the incisions too large, the surrounding hair can fall out after the surgery. Choosing a skilled surgeon with a lot of experience performing hair restoration surgery is a must, as another cause of shock loss is accidentally nicking the healthy hair follicles during the surgery. Shock loss due to cut hair follicles is typically permanent.
Reducing the Risk
Shock loss isn’t very common after a hair transplant. In the majority of cases, it is temporary and a patient will get his hair back in a few months. But, since the point of a hair transplant is to restore hair, not cause additional loss, many patients want to prevent it from occurring in the first place. Some patients find that taking minoxidil or another medication that reduces hair loss before the surgery helps reduce the likelihood of miniaturized hair follicles.
Keeping the size of the transplant small can also help reduce the risk for shock loss. If a patient has a significant amount of a hair loss, he may need more than one surgery to completely cover the area.
Choosing a skilled surgeon is the first step in reducing the risk for shock loss. A hair transplant specialist such as Dr. Kyle Choe can evaluate your scalp and hair loss and help you understand your risk for shock loss. Although the surprising hair loss might be unwanted and upsetting, in the majority of cases, the hair will grow back with time.
To learn more about hair restoration surgery and to schedule a consultation, contact Dr. Choe’s practice by calling (757) 389-5850.