A positive HIV diagnosis can be world-shattering. The person learning about it may feel hopeless, fearful, and even angry. Living with HIV can be very stressful in itself. There is a constant fear of ostracization, discrimination, and having to face judgmental people every day. It can immensely add to the worries of patients with HIV. People who have HIV infection may also suffer from hair loss, although not directly as a result of the infection. HIV hair loss can cause even more stress in patients with HIV, which can become another reason for hair loss.
There may be different causes of why HIV hair loss is happening. It may not be directly associated with HIV. However, there may be other indirect causes, which involve the presence of the human immunodeficiency virus. Let’s find out if there’s anything that a person can do to fight HIV hair loss. Is it possible for patients with HIV to get a hair transplant procedure?
What Is HIV?
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks the CD4+ T-lymphocytes (helper T cells). It is a type of white blood cell. The white blood cells are a part of the body’s immune system. They protect it by warding off various infections and diseases. Since the virus destroys the CD4 cells, the body is unable to trigger an immune response.
CD4 cells help the body in triggering an immune response to infections. This is why for an HIV diagnosis, the person’s CD4 cells are counted in the blood (normally, 500 to 1,400 per mm3 of blood). The human immunodeficiency virus also uses the CD4 cells to make more copies of the virus. This reduces the body’s ability to fight back effectively against everyday illnesses, such as the common cold. Many people with HIV infection commonly get infected with bacterial pneumonia.
Left untreated, HIV infection causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). There are different stages of the infection: acute, chronic and AIDS. Having HIV infection will not always lead to AIDS. Early treatment can prevent the progression of the infection to this stage, where the immune system is extremely damaged.
Through antiretroviral therapy or ART, people who have HIV can live a healthy life and for as long as an average person. It can even prevent the transmission of the virus from one person to another. Currently, there is no cure available to treat HIV infection. Those who are HIV positive will have the infection for life.
Symptoms of HIV Infection
Patients with HIV can pass it on to others. However, ART therapy can prevent it. People with HIV may not even know that they have the infection. The symptoms of the infection start manifesting 2 to 6 weeks after. This is the acute infection stage, where the virus is multiplying rapidly.
Since the initial symptoms are similar to that of flu, many people are unaware that they have the infection. Patients with HIV in this stage may experience headache, fatigue, sore throat, fever, muscle ache, mouth ulcers, and swollen lymph nodes, among others.
After these symptoms go away, patients with HIV may not experience any other symptoms associated with HIV for years. This is the chronic stage of the infection, and it can last for more than a decade. The virus is replicating in this stage too but at a lower rate. If the person starts getting ART treatment during this stage, they may remain in it and not have AIDS.
HIV infection has two classifications: HIV-1 infection and HIV-2 infection. HIV-1 infection is more common and can be life-threatening.
Causes of HIV
The HIV crossed species from chimpanzees to humans back in the 1800s. It can be sexually transmitted through bodily fluids, such as blood, semen, anal and vaginal fluids. Unprotected sexual intercourse can transmit HIV from one person to another. The use of unsterile medical equipment that is contaminated with HIV can also transmit it. Tools used for manicures and pedicures in beauty saloons can also transfer the virus to the body.
Does HIV Cause Hair Loss?
HIV can cause hair loss in some people who have the infection. Other than HIV causing hair loss, medications that are used to treat HIV can cause hair loss as a side effect. HIV can also cause other medical problems, such as iron deficiency anaemia or thyroid dysfunction, which can lead to hair loss. Let’s get to know the different reasons for HIV hair loss:
Learning that you are HIV positive can result in mental and physical stress. There is no cure for the HIV virus. It’s hard for these patients to cope easily with the knowledge of their infection. They fear stigmatization. Hair loss can occur as a result of this stress that accompanies the disease.
Telogen effluvium is the name of hair loss that occurs as a result of stress. Chronic illness is one reason for this type of hair loss. You may not immediately lose your hair due to telogen effluvium. In fact, telogen effluvium hair loss can take place months after a stressful event. However, patients with HIV may be under constant stress. That is why they can continue experiencing telogen effluvium. It can hamper normal hair growth from taking place.
Diffuse alopecia, also known as alopecia areata, may also cause hair loss in someone who is HIV positive. Alopecia areata commonly occurs in those people who have immune system disorders. The healthy body cells are under attack by the body’s own immune system. According to one study, follicular stem cells, present in the hair follicle, become apoptotic (prone to dying) in HIV-1 infection. This can result in alopecia areata. Alopecia and HIV, therefore, has a relation.
Medications for HIV Causing Hair Loss
This is something that mainly happened in the past as a result of the medications prescribed for HIV. Now, only the prescription of Zovirax (acyclovir) used to treat herpes (in HIV positive patients, in this case) can cause hair loss.
With HIV medications, people with HIV can live longer lives. So, getting the treatment as soon as possible is important. As people naturally age, they also end up losing their hair because of that.
How Does HIV Affect the Scalp?
People who have HIV find it difficult to fight off everyday infections and illnesses. The diseases that can occur as a result of the immune system damage caused by HIV can cause hair loss. For instance, patients with HIV commonly end up having seborrheic dermatitis as a side effect. Seborrheic dermatitis is a form of dermatitis that occurs in those areas of the body where there is more sebaceous glands activity. This can cause redness, itchiness and flaky scales on the scalp. Inflammation can also occur as a result.
Anti-fungal and steroids are used for treatment. It can be difficult to treat it in patients with HIV. Since their immune system is weak, any stressful event can cause a skin problem to emerge again and again.
Can People with HIV Have Hair Transplant
Alopecia and HIV can negatively impact a patient’s life quality. HIV is an infectious disease that weakens the immune system. In a hair transplant surgery, the surgeon has to make thousands of open cuts on the skin. These cuts are prone to infection during the recovery process.
If an HIV positive patient has an infection after the hair transplant, their body might not be able to fight the infection. Their immune system is weak, and they are prone to having infections after procedures. The infection can spread quickly, causing infected wounds on the skin. This may also affect the transplanted hair, and the patient will end up with unsatisfactory and poor results. Infection can also be life-threatening for HIV positive patients. The surgery may not be that successful.
Therefore, a hair transplant procedure is not recommended for people with HIV. It’s better not to risk getting an infection from the surgery, as it can be potentially life-threatening. For us, the health of the patient always comes first, so we do not do anything that can put it at risk.
What is Undetectable HIV?
It is possible for HIV to go undetected if the person is taking treatment for it. It happens because of the decrease in the viral load. However, an antibody HIV test will result in an HIV positive diagnosis because the antibodies produced are present in the body.
Can I have Hair Transplant If I’m Undetectable?
Undetectable HIV means that the patient is still HIV positive. If they stop their medications, their viral load will increase. This possibility can still affect the desired results that the patient will get from their hair transplant.
The testing kits we use are able to detect HIV even if the patient is undetectable. Unfortunately, this still makes the patient unsuitable for a hair transplant.
There is a relationship between alopecia and HIV. However, there are many other indirect causes for HIV hair loss that stem from the presence of the virus. Hair loss due to this disease can be stressful. Unfortunately, you are not advised to get hair transplant surgery with it. To learn about other treatment options, contact us to book your free consultation.