Research Team

Does Anesthesia Cause Hair Loss?

During surgery an anesthesiologist will administer an anesthesia cocktail to make sure the patient is unconscious during the procedure. Knowing you need surgery can cause stress, as it has multitude of issues can happen when you are under and sometimes they can be fatal. This is frightening and can cause varying levels of stress for someone.

Your fight or flight or adrenaline response goes into action. The stress can trigger someone’s hair cycle to be active in the shedding stage.

Immune System Issues Caused by Stress

Mild to severe worry over the situation can lead to a point where your body isn’t functioning normally. Your body can experience depletion in certain minerals and vitamins due to your nervous system going into overdrive.

The lack of these vitamins and minerals can cause the immune system to weaken. Your adrenal glands could be affected; at least that’s what the alternative community believes.

However, Doctors at the Mayo Clinic and Harvard Medical School don’t believe adrenal insufficiency is directly from stress (1, 2). They believe adrenal insufficiency is brought on by other conditions such as overactive nerves, or fibromyalgia, all of which can contribute to stress from these conditions.

A weakened immune system is detrimental to the health of your body and your hair follicles.

Weak Immune System Causes Follicle Damage and Hair Thinning or Loss

If your immune system is weak due to chronic stress or other health conditions, it’s hard for anyone to maintain strong skin and healthy hair follicles. This can force you to lose hair.

By keeping your immune system strong regardless of a potential surgery, your hair cycle has more of a chance of staying in tact, less follicle damage.

If you have autoimmune problems it becomes even more critical for you to eat better and take supplements as needed. The older you are the more prone you become because the body is breaking down. Older patients can take longer to heal from an operation, as age disrupts the communication between skin and immune cells according to a study done at Rockefeller University in 2016 (3).

White Blood Cells Raise Under Stress

A weakened immune system can also raise your White Blood Cells (WBCs), or infection-fighting cells. Your doctor may think you have an infection (usually viral if WBC are slightly elevated), but also, high levels of stress can increase your WBC count (4). If you remain calm and do everything you can to promote wellness and relaxation this won’t happen.

When stress causes the blood pressure to increase you can get headaches, pull muscles, and become weaker in general – something you want to avoid before a surgical procedure. You want to mitigate the potential chaos in your body as best as you possibly can. Understanding how your white blood cells can fluctuate is important.

All of the stress you feel can create an issue with your hair cycle as mentioned in the beginning of this article. It’s known as Telogen Effluvium or T.E. It’s usually the reason some people experience hair thinning or loss after or before an operation.

Telogen Effluvium: Temporary Hair Loss

When you are under this amount of stress before a surgery you can trigger a condition called, Telogen Effluvium. This is a stress-induced hair loss and attributed to severe stress which can cause you to prematurely enter the “rest phase” of the hair growth cycle. This phase is called the Telogen phase.

Many times, individuals who have surgery attribute hair thinning or hair loss directly to the anesthesia. This could be the case for certain people, especially if their health is already on the decline and heavy medications could cause a problem.

Most of the time, this condition is temporary and hair is able to regrow within 6 months to a year. Taking supplements such as biotin, fish oil, l-arginine (helps to pump the blood), vitamin C, and other supplements can help the regrowth process (5).

Supplements for Hair Growth:

  • Vitamin A
  • B Complex
  • Biotin
  • B-12
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Fish Oil
  • L-Arginine
  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Keratin
  • Antioxidants

The majority of people suffer from hair shedding from this kind of stress. If an individual has multiple surgeries for an extended period of time, it would be more plausible to say stress as well as the anesthesia concoction of medications could cause a hair loss issue.

To better understand T. E. you should know the three phases of the hair cycle (6).

Three Phases of Hair Growth

When you lose hair from this condition, you lose them in the telogen phase, which is the resting or shedding phase of the hair cycle. During this phase fewer follicles are ready for hairs to grow.

The growth phase is the anagen phase. This results in thinning hair and potential receding hair line. It takes about six months to a year, potentially, if you have suffered significant thinning or total loss.

When you are in between these phases, the transitional hair phase is called, the catagen phase. If this condition occurs you have skipped the resting phase and go straight into a hair loss situation.

Does Anesthesia Cause Telogen Effluvium?

Propofol, the main brand of anesthesia drug, could very well contribute to hair thinning and hair loss, but it hasn’t been proven.

All medications have side effects and everyone reacts differently (7). Though it has never been proven, some medical professionals and patients believe there is a link between anesthesia and potential hair loss.

Medications for surgery can slow down cellular reproduction and could push follicles into the resting phase of the hair cycle. The change of blood flow could cause this. Most surgeries under anesthesia are usually under an hour, or between one and two hours. So, this wouldn’t cause permanent hair loss, if hair loss occurred after surgery.

Propofol and Medications Used During Surgery

The anesthesia propofol or demerol (whichever your doctor chooses) are usually mixed with other sedatives like valium or benzodiazepines such as Ativan with anti-nausea medications such as zofran or ondansetron, sometimes other medications are added to the mix.

Sedatives can have a range of side effects as well as the anesthesia itself after you wake up from a surgical procedure (8). Sometimes side effects can last for a few hours to several days. In severe cases they could cause other serious conditions that may last weeks or cause permanent damage to the brain or body.

Potential Anesthesia Mix:

  • Barbiturates, Thiamylal
  • Diazepam or Lorazepa or Midazolam
  • Etomidate, Ketamine
  • Propofol (anesthesia)
  • Zofran or Ondansetron

Most of these drugs slow circulation and affect the central nervous system, so they could contribute to some hair loss. If you are already on Ativan or another benzodiazepine, anti-depressant or mood stabilizer you may be more susceptible to a circulation issue.

Hormonal Changes and Hair loss

Change in your hormone cycle could contribute to hair loss. This typically causes women to have more issues with hair loss than men. When you have surgery you are also more sedentary. You need to walk around more and get blood pumping. Physical inactivity can cause potential blood clots and certainly won’t help your immune system or hair regrowth. If you rest too much you can negatively affect the hormonal cycle as well.

When you are stressed, cortisol increases (9). This can also negatively affect your hair growth cycle and promote hair loss. This constricts your blood vessels which make it difficult for oxygen to get to your hair follicles. It’s important for circulation to supply all organs with nutrients for optimal health.

Did you know that adrenal gland function is very similar to your hair follicle function? So, when you’re overly stressed you can now see why you might lose your hair.

You need to get rid of all stress. It might sound hard, but there are many options you can do to improve your thoughts.

Become Stress Free

Too much stress and worry can wreak havoc on your body. Trying to minimize stress levels will help your hair health. When you worry too much about your surgery or life in general, you can prompt the hair loss.

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), in order to reduce your own anxiety you have to understand how it affects you (10). Anxiety is a strong emotion. The function of anxiety of to keep us alert and safe. If we didn’t have anxiety we wouldn’t know how to interpret dangerous situations.

There are a variety of coping mechanisms so we don’t over stress. There is yoga, deep breathing, mindful meditation and herbs you can try to help minimize anxiety and stress before a procedure.

Some herbals could be a problem before surgery. Most of the time doctors tell you to not take blood thinners and sedatives a few days before surgery. Talk to your doctor about your medications that you shouldn’t take.

Alternative Methods and Supplements to Mitigate Stress Response:

  • Yoga, Mediation, Controlled breathing
  • Magnesium and potassium
  • Lemon balm, Ashwagandha
  • Clinical therapy (talking to a counselor LCPC)
  • Psychotherapy (talking to a psychiatrist; MD)
  • Massages or Acupuncture

Ways to Manage Stress: Yoga

Yoga is an option for stress management (11). It’s an integrative health and wellness opportunity to relax and become more self-aware. It is a mental as well as a physical discipline that helps you to achieve inner peace with your body and mental state. It can provide stress reduction and help with chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and certain chronic pain conditions.

Different yoga courses have different intensities. Some are strictly for beginners and go at a slower pace. You can rent a DVD or find a course locally in your community.

Mindfulness Meditation

Another way to help reduce your stress is meditation. This kind of “mindful” mediation is when you are able to sit still with your thoughts. Some experts say this kind of practice is actually one of the best ways to deal with stress.

According to the John’s Hopkins Bay View Clinic doctors, it’s essentially a form of awareness in the present, not dwelling on the future (12). This form of self-awareness is one of the most effective ways to improve anxiety and mood and can help to eliminate migraines.

Deep Breathing for Stress

Breathing techniques can also help you feel relaxed (13). They can make your body feel more aware of your surroundings and allow you to be calm. This kind of breathing sends a signal to your brain to calm down and relax. This can assist your body to lower high blood pressure as well (14).

Supplements for Stress: Potassium and Magnesium

Keeping your blood potassium level in the correct range is important, because this mineral also plays a key role in the function of nerves and muscles (15). The FDA does have a limit for taking these supplements; less than 100 mg.

Magnesium is another important mineral used for normal bone structure in the body. People get magnesium from their diet, but sometimes magnesium supplements are needed, especially in women. Foods that are high in fiber are generally high in magnesium.

Both potassium and magnesium are essential for everyday life, but are increasingly important when you are under stressful situations or prolonged stress. Increasing your levels before or after surgery could be beneficial, but always talk this over with your doctor.

Herbals for Stress Reduction

Herbs can be great for a multitude of conditions. Many help reduce stress but most are blood thinners and can have side effects that you don’t want before or during a surgery. The two below help the immune system as well as promote calmness are Lemon Balm and Ashwagandha.

Lemon Balm

Lemon balm is part of the mint family of herbs (16). It can improve your mood and promote a sense of calm; an at ease feeling. This herbal is found to be relatively safe and a study found that using 1,600 mgs of the herb increased calmness for about six hours.

In addition to helping ease your anxiety and worry this herb is said to also improve insomnia, appetite, and even alleviate pain from indigestion.


Another calming herb that can help relieve stress and help you sleep is called, Ashwagandha. An NIH study showed that a high-concentration of full-spectrum Ashwaganhda root extract significantly reduced the stress response compared to a placebo (17).

The coritsol level in the trial patients was also significantly reduced in these participants and no serious adverse events were reported during the trial. So we can officially say from this particular study, that a high-concentration full-spectrum Ashwagandha root can improves stress and promote quality of life.

Clinical Therapy

Aside from taking herbals, yoga and deep breathing, talking with someone can also help. This would be a medical professional such as a clinical counselor or therapist. Other than family support, using someone trained to help you think about things in a different more positively light can be beneficial. Discussing your worries and fears can be therapeutic.

Not only does the NIH suggest this kind of medical help they also take note that acupuncture, massages, and other kinds of homeopathy and hypnosis are offered before surgeries to help relieve tension and stress (18).

Medications and Supplements to Avoid Before Surgery

Certain vitamin and herbal remedies could cause complications during surgery (19). Stay away from ginseng, garlic, Ginkgo biloba, St. John’s wort, and kava kava. You should always discuss the types of dietary supplements you take prior to surgery with your doctor. Sometimes they need to be stopped a few days before your procedure.

Prepare your immune system before surgery by steering clear of certain herbals and medications and eating healthy. Always discuss lemon balm and Indian herbal, ashwaganhda with your doctor as well. There might be better herbal options for your individual health situation. You can always consult with an integrative medical doctor and herbalist for suggestions. Most calming herbals should be stopped a few days before you have surgery.

Avoid These OTC Supplements:

  • Aspirin
  • Blood thinners
  • Garlic
  • Ginsing
  • Ginki Biloba
  • St. John’s Eort
  • Kava Kava

Eating Right Goes a Long Way

When you are at risk for losing hair due to stress or medications, eating right will help your immune system fight these issues off or keep them to a minimum.

And though you should always eat right, all of us fall off the wagon one time or another – eating too sugar, carbs or processed foods. Eating quality foods high in vitamins and minerals will ensure a higher standard of health before going into a surgery.

You want to promote good blood flow and a calm, restful mind. Eat more probiotics, proteins, vegetables, good fats in your diet. Water is always essential. Without proper hydration, your skin and scalp will be dry and do damage to your scalp and hair follicles.

Foods You Should Eat:

  • Yogurt
  • Acai Berry or Blueberries
  • Avocados high in good fats
  • Almonds
  • Spinach
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Chicken soup
  • Fish (salmon) high in good fats
  • Broccoli

Outlook on Stress and Anesthesia Causing Hair Loss

By doing a multi-pronged approach before and after your surgery you can minimize hair loss or thinning if you do wind up experiencing it. You can restore your hair from this kind of hair loss because it’s usually temporary. By reliving as much stress as possible, eating healthier, taking supplements (always discuss with your doctor or surgeon) and utilizing a stress reducing technique you can help promote hair growth.

It will take time but by sticking to a healthier routine you can reduce severe stress.

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