Does Wellbutrin Cause Hair Loss?

Alopecia on Bupropion

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Have you been wondering whether or not the antidepressant Wellbutrin may cause hair loss? What might cause the loss of hair—also called alopecia—on Wellbutrin (bupropion) and other antidepressants? Does this mean you need to stop taking your medication even if it is working well?

Wellbutrin Uses and Advantages

Wellbutrin (bupropion) is a commonly prescribed medication. It is used for clinical depression, but also for smoking cessation (marketed under the name Zyban). One reason Wellbutrin is commonly used is that it has a lower risk of sexual side effects such as erectile dysfunction, lack of desire, or difficulty with arousal or orgasm.

Hair Loss on Wellbutrin

Hair loss can be a side effect of treatment with Wellbutrin. Hair loss is not limited to Wellbutrin. Other antidepressants may cause hair loss as well.

Timing of Hair Loss

Hair loss related to antidepressant medications is commonly noted around two to four months after starting or changing a medication. With this type of hair loss, known as telogen effluvium, hair loss commonly begins three to four months after a trigger (such as stress, a medical condition, or a medication change).

The Hair Growth and Loss Cycle

To understand the type of hair loss related to Wellbutrin, it helps to talk about the phases of the hair cycle. Our hair actually goes through four distinct phases between the "birth" of a hair and when it falls out: anagen, catagen, telogen, and exogen. The first phase, anagen, determines how long hair will become and lasts from two to six years. Nearly 90% of the hairs on your head are in the anagen phase.

Catagen is a shorter transition phase in which the hair follicle loses its blood supply and stops growing. It then enters the telogen phase, where it stays for three or four months. Exogen is the final phase, in which the hair is shed. Around 10% of your hair is normally in the telogen phase, but this can be much higher if your hair is prematurely shifted to the telogen phase by a physical or emotional stressor.

The type of hair loss experienced by some people on Wellbutrin and other antidepressants is telogen effluvium. It is characterized by widespread thinning of the hair. Often, more hair loss occurs near the front of the head, above the forehead.

Causes of Telogen Effluvium

Telogen effluvium happens when the body is stressed (or shocked) in a number of ways. You may have heard people talk about hair loss occurring after childbirth or after a major surgery.

Other conditions which may result in this type of hair loss include an illness, poor nutrition, crash dieting, or starting a number of different medications. The mental stress of clinical depression, or whatever event precipitated depression in someone with situational depression, can cause telogen effluvium.

Telogen effluvium occurs when hair follicles go into their resting state of growth (telogen) too early and stay there. Since a larger than normal number of hair follicles are in the telogen phase, hair loss can occur diffusely, all over the scalp. Humans normally shed around 100 hairs daily, but this number can be greatly increased with telogen effluvium.

The good news is that hair loss on Wellbutrin is temporary and completely reversible. There are several distinct types of telogen effluvium. The one related to Wellbutrin is caused by a temporary disruption in the hair cycle.

There is another type of telogen effluvium in which the trigger (whatever caused the disrupted hair cycle) is ongoing. Some people with thyroid problems or nutritional deficiencies experience this type of telogen effluvium, which is more gradual than other types but lasts longer.

Other Side Effects of Wellbutrin

In addition to the uncommon side effect of hair loss, there are some common side effects of Wellbutrin. Unlike most antidepressants, you are more likely to lose weight than gain while taking it. Unfortunately, most antidepressants carry the risk of side effects, and you will need to work with your doctor to balance these side effects with the benefits you get from the medication.

Discontinuing Medication to Stop Hair Loss

You may need to stop taking your medication in order to stop your hair loss. If you do not wish to discontinue your medication, however, talk with your doctor about the possibility of taking a lower dose or changing to a different brand of bupropion. It could be that you are reacting to one of the inactive ingredients in the pill, rather than the bupropion itself.

An inactive ingredient is not a compound that has no actions; the term "inactive" simply means that the ingredient does not play a role in the purpose for which the medication is prescribed. These inactive ingredients have been known to cause side effects as well as allergic reactions at times. If this is the case, it could be that your hair loss is caused only by the generic version of the drug, or vice versa.

Keep in mind that another hair-loss trigger may have occurred at the same time (or close to the same time) at which you started the medication. Stress alone may sometimes cause telogen effluvium.

Preventing or Stopping Hair Loss

Using a special shampoo or changing the way you care for your hair will not prevent telogen effluvium or stop the process once it is underway. Stopping Wellbutrin is the surest way of stopping future hair loss. Working to decrease stress in your life, however, may reduce one of the triggers for this kind of hair loss.

Telogen effluvium hair loss usually resolves around six months after the stressor which started the process is removed. For example, without any intervention, hair loss usually resolves around six months after delivery of a baby, after the resolution of an illness, or after a new medication is stopped.

A Word From Verywell

The bottom line on hair loss with Wellbutrin is that it may occur, but it is temporary. There are other options available for treating depression. There are also several options to help you cope with hair loss, ranging from different hairstyles to wearing a scarf or wig.

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7 Sources
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