Wellbutrin, generically known as bupropion, is one of the commonly prescribed antidepressant medications in the US. This antidepressant has a unique action mechanism compared to most antidepressants, largely acting as a dopamine reuptake inhibitor. Like other antidepressants, Wellbutrin is associated with side effects like headache and drowsiness. Furthermore, unlike other antidepressants such as Paxil, patients on Wellbutrin do not experience sudden weight gain.
However, hair loss is instead one of the major side effects for people on Wellbutrin. The possibility of hair loss is particularly greater in people using this medication to treat stress-related conditions like seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and clinical depression.
Wellbutrin is an antidepressant prescribed for the treatment of social anxiety disorder, depressive disorder, and affective disorder that is linked to change in seasons. It can also be administered in low doses to help people quit smoking by lowering anxiety levels as well as other abstinence symptoms associated with nicotine.
The main ingredient in Wellbutrin is bupropion. It contains psychostimulant properties that belong to the class of noradrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin reuptake inhibitors. One of the reasons why Wellbutrin is popular is that, unlike most antidepressants, it does not impair sexual functionality like causing lack of sexual desire, erectile dysfunction, or arousal and orgasm difficulties.
It can take weeks or even months of Wellbutrin treatment to relieve the symptoms of depression and anxiety and there is no defined length of time for using this medication. However, the patient may be advised to continue the medication even when they feel better to prevent recurrence of the symptoms. Individuals suffering from severe depression, and whose response to Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) is slow or poor, are sometimes advised to complement their medication with Wellbutrin.
The exact mechanism of action of Wellbutrin is not very clear. However, it is believed to act as follows:
• Inhibiting reuptake of dopamine transporter and norepinephrine transporter. Additionally, its mechanism of action may involve a presynaptic release of dopamine and noradrenaline.
• The non-competitive antagonist of nicotinic cholinergic receptors. Some experts believe this could contribute to Wellbutrin’s antidepressant effects as well as its efficacy for the cessation of smoking.
Hair loss is one of the major side effects of Wellbutrin treatment. According to Glaxo Smith Kline, the drug’s manufacturer, hair loss is a rare side effect that occurs in 1 in 100 to 1000 patients on Wellbutrin treatment. However, hair loss is a normal side effect of most antidepressants.
Wellbutrin causes a type of hair loss referred to as telogen effluvium. The medication is believed to interfere with the telogen stage of the hair growth cycle. The telogen phase, also referred to as the “resting” phase, is generally characterized by hair dormancy where they do not produce any fiber. About 15% -20% of hair follicles are usually in the telogen phase at any given time during the hair’s growth cycle.
Telogen effluvium is mainly characterized by widespread hair thinning. It usually occurs as a result of stress or when a patient is adjusting to a new medication. The good news, however, is that hair loss that results from Wellbutrin treatment is usually temporary and can be reversed. Most people usually grow their hair back around six months after stopping the use of this medication. The severity of hair loss that results from Wellbutrin use is dose-dependent, meaning that taking higher doses of this antidepressant may cause significant hair loss over a short time period.
Severe hair loss due to the use of this antidepressant can be quite depressing. As such, the patient should be closely monitored for signs of depression with the goal of effecting appropriate treatment. While it may not be apparent, severe hair loss can affect the overall treatment goal, with this side effect potentially leading to non-compliance with the treatment regime, worsening the symptoms of depression and even causing relapse in the process.
Is hair loss as a result of Wellbutrin use reversible?
The good news is, hair loss that results from Wellbutrin treatment is not permanent. The hair follicles do not become irreversibly damaged. As such, you can expect your hair to grow back once you have stopped using this medication, usually 6 months after tapering the use of Wellbutrin.
Is there a proven medical diagnosis of hair loss caused by Wellbutrin treatment?
So far, experts have not been able to come up with proof that can expressly identify hair loss caused by Wellbutrin. The only reliable means of telling whether hair loss is a result of Wellbutrin involves gradual withdrawal and discontinuation of the medication.
Does Welbutrin’s manufacturer acknowledge hair loss as a side effect of the medication?
According to GlaxoSmithKline, the drug’s manufacturer, hair loss is a rare Wellbutrin side effect that affects about 1 in 1000 patients. This represents just 0.1 percent of the patients on Wellbutrin.
While this may not seem like a high figure, it becomes significant when you get to understand that over 27 million Americans use Wellbutrin and other antidepressant medications.
When does the hair loss begin?
Hair loss that is triggered by Wellbutrin and other antidepressants is commonly observed around six months from the onset of treatment or upon the change of medication. This kind of hair loss (known as telogen effluvium) often begins 3 to 4 months after the trigger (such as medical condition, stress, or change of medication).
Can you stop hair loss that is caused by Wellbutrin?
The first thing you need to do if your hair loss is massive, or if it causes concern, is to consult your physician. One of the obvious decisions you can take upon consulting your doctor is to reduce your Wellbutrin dosage progressively and watch if hair loss rate reduces. The other option you might consider, upon consulting your physician, is the administration of some type of natural dihydrotestosterone (DHT) blocker. That said, achieving the right dosage, and managing the symptoms of depression can go a long way in preventing hair loss or growing your hair back.
Hair loss among patients on Wellbutrin and other antidepressant users is real. While the percentage of patients affected might be under 1 percent, this is still a significant figure that should not be ignored. The good news, however, is that hair loss that is triggered by Wellbutrin is not a permanent condition. Additionally, there are other options available for managing depression. There are also multiple options when it comes to coping with hair loss, including adopting a different hairstyle or wearing a wig or scarf.