Hair loss, or alopecia, is a symptom of lupus that impacts roughly 50% of people with the disease.
Lupus causes inflammation and when it impacts the body’s largest organ, the skin, it can result in hair loss. It is most common to have hair loss on the scalp that thins gradually. But, some people may lose hair in clumps.
It isn’t just the hair on the top of your head that may fall out. You may also experience thinning hair of the eyelashes, eyebrows, beard, and body hair.
How can I know that my hair loss is due to lupus?
It is normal to lose fifty to one hundred strands of hair every day. There may be some small or noticeable changes in this amount, but typically this is nothing to worry about. Still, if you perceive that a large amount of your hair is falling out, it is always best to bring it up with your doctor.
Besides lupus, there are a number of health conditions and factors that can lead to the thinning of hair. Other common reasons include:
The most common type of hair loss is known as asandrogenetic alopecia and occurs as a result of heredity. It is not curable, though there are some treatments that may slow the process down. While women traditionally experience this as thinning hair, men may also go bald.
Many hair products and treatments include harmful chemicals that can cause hair to break or fall out. Bleaches, dyes, straighteners, and perms may damage hair. Typically, stopping use of the product will solve the problem.
Alopecia areata is actually a different autoimmune disease from lupus. With alopecia areata, the body believes that hair and hair follicles are foreign invaders. The immune system attacks the body tissue resulting in the hair loss.
Alopecia areata is also known as spot baldness because the hair loss may occur in small, defined areas on the scalp. Only 1-2% of cases spread to the entire scalp.
In a 1992 study, researchers found that 10% of people with lupus also developed alopecia areata. For comparison, the condition is only present in 0.42% of other dermatology patients. However, it is important to note that the study was only conducted with 39 participants.
Managing stress can be an important part of minimizing hair loss. Even by itself, stress can cause problems. Telogen effluvium is a very specific type of scalp disorder caused by stress. High stress levels cause the hair follicles to enter the resting, or telogen, phase. A few months later, this causes the effected hairs to fall out. This condition is reversible and reverses itself when stress is reduced.
Hair loss is a side effect of some common lupus medications. Typically, when you stop taking the medications, the hair loss is reversible. The most common medications that cause issues are:
What are the types of alopecia?
There are essentially two main types of alopecia. They are:
- Hair follicles are destroyed and there is no chance of hair regrowth
- Discoid lupus is a major cause
- Hair follicles remain intact and there is a chance for hair regrowth
What should I do if I am losing my hair?
If you have any health concerns, you should discuss them with your doctor. Your treatment team may be able to find triggers for the hair loss and correct them quickly.
Also, actively working to reduce flares may help. Some strategies include stress management, healthy eating, and avoiding sun exposure.
Losing your hair may seem like another way that lupus is an unfair foe. There are strategies to fight back (wigs, new hair styles, extensions, and accessories). It may help to remember that, just like with lupus, hair loss may be something you and others in the community are living with, but it doesn’t define your personal identity. If you are struggling with the physical changes to your body, or are feeling depressed or anxious, speak with your doctor and consider mental health services.