The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Food & Health

May 16, 2014

Thyroid is first on list of causes for eyebrow loss

DEAR DR. ROACH: I am a 63-year-old female of normal weight and active. I exercise several times a week and am in seemingly good health. About a year ago I noticed that my eyebrows were disappearing, starting on the outer edges. They are now almost completely gone. During my annual physical in November, my general physician found that I have thyroid nodules. Three large ones were biopsied and proved negative. Blood work, including a TSH level, is normal. Both my GP and dermatologist feel certain that the nodules are not causing the eyebrow problem, because I don't have any other symptoms of thyroid disease, but they don't know what is causing the loss. — K.F.

ANSWER: The loss of eyebrows, superciliary madarosis, has many possible causes, but low thyroid is the first that most doctors think of. A TSH level is a reasonable screening test for thyroid disease, but if the suspicion is high, I check additional thyroid tests, such a thyroxine (T4), free T4 and T3. Occasionally TSH still can be in the very broad "normal" range for most people but be abnormal for that person.

Other causes of eyebrow loss include autoimmune disease, inflammatory skin conditions and infection. Repeated plucking of the eyebrows can lead to permanent loss of the follicles. Allergies to cosmetics also can cause eyebrow and eyelash loss. Have you changed your makeup recently?

DEAR DR. ROACH: I am a 78-year-old male. I have remained very active, playing tennis twice a week and golfing twice a week. I have "refractory anemia with ringed sideroblasts," a type of myelodysplastic syndrome. The treatment program calls for five days of Vidaza injections followed by Neupogen injections if needed.

I have several questions. As I understand it, there is no cure at this time for MDS, so will this treatment be necessary indefinitely? Will Vidaza eventually become ineffective and some stronger alternative be required? Will this advance to a life-threatening situation without injections? — J.C.

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