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Distressing Drug-Induced Hair Loss from Atenolol

Q. I used to have a full head of hair but over the last three years it has been thinning at an alarming rate. I wonder if any of my medications could be responsible for this problem. I take atenolol for blood pressure, ibuprofen for arthritis and amitriptyline for fibromyalgia.

My hairdresser does wonders but I do have a lot of bad hair days and feel very self conscious. My doctor suggested Rogaine but didn’t seem very concerned. Can you send me any information that would be helpful for my situation?

A. Your medicines could indeed be contributing to your hair loss. A surprising number of drugs do seem to cause hair thinning.

Beta blockers are among the most likely culprits when it comes to hair loss. There is also some serious doubt among hypertension experts that drugs like atenolol, metoprolol or propranolol are appropriate as first-line treatments for high blood pressure. And by the way, the ibuprofen you are taking for arthritis could be raising your blood pressure as well as contributing to your hair loss.

Another reader offered this report:

“I experienced hair loss while taking metoprolol (also a beta blocker) for migraine prevention. I was losing 200 hairs at each brushing (I counted!!).

“I quit taking the beta blocker when I read the information supplied by the supplier that indicated “reversible alopecia” (hair loss) was a possible side effect. My hair loss subsided and I’m happy to report that my hair has completely regrown.

“I know the worry caused by hair loss and hope that you will have the same positive experience that I did once you get off the atenolol.”

Please don’t stop taking your medications on your own. Sudden withdrawal from beta blockers can cause chest pain, irregular heart rhythms or even a heart attack. Instead, ask your doctor about alternatives that might not trigger this reaction.

You may find our Guide to Hair and Nail Care helpful. It discusses minoxidil (Rogaine) and lists medications associated with hair loss. You may also find our Guide to Blood Pressure Treatment worthwhile. It gives the inside story on beta blockers and provides background information on many other medications and non-drug alternatives.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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