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finding a good doctor

Finding a Good Dermatologist (or Doctor in General)

doctorFinding a good dermatologist or doctor can prove to be one of the most difficult things to face when you are experiencing hair loss…

  • A good physician will say, “I’m sorry. This must be hard for you to understand.”
  • He/she will give you the address of the National Alopecia Foundation or other support organizations and tell you about the information they provide.
  • He/she will tell you there are others with this same condition and the medical field just doesn’t understand what’s going on.
  • He/she will understand that you have NEVER heard of this condition and that you are scared.
  • A good physician won’t scoff at your questions or minimize your concerns. He/her will appreciate your questions and will be willing to learn with you as much as possible about the condition.

SIGNS OF A BAD DERMATOLOGIST!!!

  • Inappropriate Commentaries
  • Disbelief
  • Cruelty
  • Callousness
  • Impatience

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The craft of the physician may be judged by the thoroughness of the history and physical examination. The following list provides a schematic of some of the things that a physician should do, or consider doing, when first examining a patient with alopecia. Subsequent visits may be shorter but the physician should always be vigilant to the appearance of other autoimmune conditions, of which, thyroid disease appears to be the most common.

History
The initial part of the history is aimed at providing a background to the patient’s condition and allowing the physician to focus on particular problems. Some of the initial questions include:

  1. Is the hair coming out by the roots or is it breaking off?
  2. Is the loss slowing down or getting worse?
  3. Is your hair becoming thinner or do you have totally bald spots?
  4. Do you color, bleach or straighten your hair?
  5. Do you shampoo or condition the hair?
  6. Do you blow dry your hair or use a hot comb?
  7. Is your father’s, mother’s, sister’s or brother’s hair thinning?

The physician then documents all alopecia episodes including age of onset, duration, remissions, patterns of hair loss, relieving or exacerbating factors, treatments, and associated systemic diseases (autoimmune diseases, allergic rhinitis, asthma, atopic dermatitis, connective tissue disease, bowel disorders involving malabsorption, endocrine abnormalities, chromosomal disorders, or cancer). Some of the questions include:

  1. Do you have anorexia nervosa?
  2. Do you have a thyroid disorder?
  3. Have you gained or lost weight?
  4. Are you anemic?
  5. Are your mentrual periods heavy?

The history should date any medication and events within the past 6 months before the first and subsequent episodes of alopecia. The drugs include aminosalicylic acid, amphetamines, bromocriptine, capatopril, carbamazepine, cimetidine, coumadin, danazol, enalapril, etretinate, levodopa, lithium, metoprolol, propanolol, phenytoin, pyridostigmine, and trimethadione. Other pertinent questions include:

  1. Do you take vitamins?
  2. Do you take separate vitamin A tablets?

An inventory of stressful life events and psychiatric disorders. Specific questions will include:

  1. Did you have a baby?
  2. Have you started or stopped oral contraceptives?
  3. Have you gone through menopause?
  4. Have you had a high fever, the flu, been hospitalized or had major surgery?
  5. Have you been on a crash diet? Are you a vegetarian?
  6. Have you had any major stresses during this time?

Physical Exam of the entire cutaneous surface, oral cavity, nails, and sweating. Some of the special exam maneuvers are individualized and not done in every patient but include:

  1. Scalp examination to determine the patterns of hair loss and associated lesions. The presence or absence of hair follicles and sebaceous glands.
  2. Hair Pull Test where 50-100 hairs are pulled in several sections of the scalp. Normally 2-5 telogen hairs will be obtained in this manner, depending on when the last shampoo and styling were done. An active telogen effluvium condition will produce 3-4 times the normal amount of hair pulled; androgenetic alopecia or resolving telogen effluvium has a slight to moderate increase in the number of hairs shed.
  3. Quantitative Analysis of Hair Shedding – The patient is asked to collect ALL hairs shed daily for 7 days in individual plastic bags. The hair is then counted and averaged per day. Normal daily loss is 50-100 hairs. Patients with active telogen effluvium have a 10-40% greater loss.
  4. Density determination – By shaving a small area of the scalp, marking with a skin punch and ink pad, the hairs are counted per square centimeter (normally 150 hairs/cm). The growth rate is measured one month later (normally 1.0-1.2 cm/mo).
  5. Microscopic Hair analysis looking for telogen bulbs, broken hairs (exclamation point hairs), anagen hairs, hair diameter (a high variability in diameter of the hair shaft is evident in androgenetic alopecia), anagen-telogen ration, and sometimes potassium hydroxide is applied to an individual hair strand sample allowing visualization of fungal spores (blackdot ringworm) which causes broken hairs.
  6. Scalp Biopsy which will show them the following:
    • A normal 4-6 mm skin sample should contain 30 terminal hairs, sweat glands, and hair follicles. When alopecia appears to be scarring, the absence of these establishes the diagnosis.
    • The biopsy must go deep enough to include subcutaneous tissue in order to capture anagen hair bulbs. It is closed with suture to ensure proper healing.
    • Various stains are used to detect scarring, lupus, lichen planus, or a blistering disease.
    • Evidence of inflammation may be an indication for the use of steroids.
    • Amino acid and sulfur analysis may be done for certain rare genetic hair disorders.