Autoimmune Diseases And Hair Loss

There are over 100 autoimmune diseases that affect different parts of the body. Some of them, however, directly or indirectly affect the hair follicles, resulting in alopecia. 

This hair loss can be of different types. It can be diffuse. It can be patchy. It can also be temporary or permanent. 

Fortunately, there are treatments that can help you grow your hair back. This is even when, in general, there’s no cure for the autoimmune disease itself. 

The purpose of this guide is to help you understand what and how some autoimmune diseases can cause hair loss, as well as how to deal with it. 

How Can Autoimmune Diseases Cause Hair Loss? 

In autoimmune diseases, the immune system malfunctions. Instead of protecting your body from outside invaders, it turns on you. 

As a result, it starts attacking healthy cells, tissues, and organs. There are different types of autoimmune diseases affecting different areas.

Cells

Only one type of autoimmune disease directly affects the hair follicles. It’s called alopecia areata. It can cause patchy hair loss, but in more severe forms, it can even cause hair loss on the entire scalp and body. 

Other autoimmune diseases, however, don’t always attack the hair follicles. But they can still cause hair loss in different ways, such as: 

  • Cause skin changes which lead to hair loss (e.g. discoid lesions in lupus)
  • Affect your nutritional status, leading to certain deficiencies 
  • Change the level of hormones in the body 
  • Cause hair loss as a side of the medication for its treatment 
  • Shocks the system through physical and/or emotional stress 

It’s not always the same for every autoimmune disease. It can differ depending on the part of the body that’s been affected. 

Which Autoimmune Diseases Cause Hair Loss?

These are some of the autoimmune diseases that can cause hair loss: 

Alopecia Areata

Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease in which the immune cells attack the healthy hair follicles on the scalp and body. As a result, you’ll experience hair loss. 

While alopecia areata is most known for causing patchy hair loss, in its more severe forms (alopecia universalis), it can make you lose hair on your entire body.

Alopecia

It can also be patterned or diffuse and can change the colour of your hair. Fortunately, though, alopecia areata is usually reversible. 

While it can’t be cured, there are different treatment options that can help you manage it. Steroids are usually the first line of treatment for alopecia areata.  

Sjögren’s Syndrome

Sjögren’s is another autoimmune disease, but it attacks the glands that produce tears and saliva in the body. 

Still, this condition can possibly attack the hair follicles as well, causing hair loss. The skin changes associated with Sjögren’s can also do the same. Even the medications for treating it can make you lose your hair. 

The hair loss in Sjögren’s is not always reversible since sometimes, it’s associated with a type of scarring alopecia. That can permanently destroy the hair follicles. 

Still, there are treatments that can help like steroids, finasteride or minoxidil. It will depend on the type of hair loss you’re suffering from. But it’s also very important to get your condition under control. 

Lupus 

Lupus is another chronic condition in which many parts of the body are affected because of an immune cell attack. 

Hair loss can actually even be a symptom of this condition, but not everyone experiences it. 

Some cases of lupus hair loss may be reversed. However, if you’ve developed discoid lesions, the scarring from it will cause permanent alopecia.

Itchy skin

For hair loss to stop, it’s important to get the underlying disease in control. 

Ankylosing Spondylitis 

Ankylosing spondylitis is another autoimmune condition that primarily results in arthritis of the spine. 

On its own, this condition does not cause hair loss. However, many people who have it still experience it. And this is mainly because of the medications that are used to treat it. 

It can, however, be managed. Alopecia caused by ankylosing spondylitis medications is usually reversible. 

You shouldn’t discontinue medication if you start experiencing hair loss while on a drug for ankylosing spondylitis. Talk to your doctor first.  

Celiac Disease 

In celiac disease, your immune cells target your small intestine. And that disrupts the absorption of nutrients from the foods you eat.

Stomach pain (1)

So, one of the big reasons why celiac disease causes hair loss is this. However, you can also experience this because of the autoimmune conditions that coexist with it. 

Fortunately, hair loss caused by celiac disease can also be reversed, but you’ll have to make changes to your diet (no gluten).  

Hashimoto’s Disease

Hashimoto’s disease will target your thyroid. And one consequence of it will be the imbalance of thyroid hormones. Usually, it results in hypothyroidism. 

These hormonal changes can shock the system and cause telogen effluvium hair loss. However, nutritional deficiencies in Hashimoto’s and any associated illnesses can be other causes as well. 

For the treatment of this autoimmune hair loss, the most important is to replace the lost hormone. And that can help with hair loss as well. 

Graves Disease 

Graves disease is another autoimmune thyroid disorder. However, unlike Hashimoto’s, Graves results in the overproduction of thyroid hormones.

Thyroid check

The result is hyperthyroidism, but since it’s still an imbalance of your hormones, it can cause shock hair loss. 

The antithyroid drugs used for its treatment can also cause hair loss as a side effect. 

Graves hair loss is also not permanent, but you have to restore the balance of your hormones for your hair to grow. 

Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s is an autoimmune disease of the gastrointestinal tract. So, one way it causes hair loss is through nutritional deficiencies. 

But here too, side effects of drugs, coexisting autoimmune conditions and stress of the condition itself can be other factors that cause hair loss. 

You may be able to reverse Crohn’s hair loss, but the underlying cause needs to be addressed. 

Vitiligo 

Vitiligo’s hallmark is loss of skin pigmentation. While it’s an autoimmune disease, it does not cause hair loss.

Vitiligo

But again, vitiligo hair loss can be a consequence of the treatment for this condition. 

And like many autoimmune illnesses, it also has a tendency to coexist with other autoimmune illnesses. Those can cause hair loss as well. 

If it’s drug-induced alopecia, your doctor may consider changing your medications. But again, you need to talk to your doctor first. Hair loss can occur due to many, many reasons. 

Addison’s Disease 

Addison’s is an autoimmune disease which affects the adrenal glands sitting on the kidneys. 

It doesn’t affect the hair follicles directly, but hormonal changes and poor nutritional intake are some of the reasons why Addison’s hair loss occurs. 

It can be helped by the treatment of Addison itself. 

Sarcoidosis

Sarcoidosis is also an inflammatory autoimmune condition that can affect different parts of the body. 

One of the organs that it can affect is the skin. The inflammation it causes can even lead to scarring alopecia. 

If this happens, your hair won’t grow back. 

Myasthenia Gravis 

Myasthenia gravis disrupts the neuromuscular junction. So, this condition doesn’t have anything to do with the hair follicles either – directly, at least.

Nerves

But the drugs used to manage its symptoms are mainly why myasthenia gravis hair loss can also occur. 

Fortunately, you can reverse it. However, might need to get your medication adjusted for that. 

Fibromyalgia 

It’s still debated whether or not fibromyalgia is autoimmune. But this condition can also cause hair loss in different ways. 

One of the main reasons why it does it is through stress. Considering how fibromyalgia causes pain all over the body (it’s life-long), it can have a significant impact on the quality of life. 

However, the hair loss caused by it is also usually reversible. For this, it’s very important that you get treatment for fibromyalgia. 

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is another inflammatory, autoimmune condition, but it affects the joints. 

The hair loss caused by it is usually a result of the different medications that are used to treat it. Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs and biologics, in particular, can do that. 

Unfortunately, the hair loss that develops with this condition is not always reversible. 

Multiple Sclerosis 

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease of the nerves. But the treatment for this condition can also cause shedding of your hair

If you’re getting a bone marrow transplant, it can even cause permanent alopecia. 

And nutritional issues and stress resulting from multiple sclerosis can also cause (or worsen) it.  

However, hair growth is still possible in multiple sclerosis hair loss. But you might have to switch medications for this (after consultation with a doctor).  

Pernicious Anaemia 

Pernicious anaemia is also an autoimmune condition of the intestines. 

Because the body’s not able to absorb vitamin B12, it affects the production of the red blood cells in the body. This, in itself, can cause hair loss.

Red blood cells

The treatment of this condition, however, which involves monthly vitamin B12 shots may help with hair loss as well. 

Psoriasis 

Psoriasis is an autoimmune skin disease, and it also affects the hair follicles in the skin. 

This condition can form these itchy, scaly patches on the skin. And the itchiness is mainly why you might end up losing hair because of it. 

Fortunately, there are different treatments that can help with it. But if you form scars from all the scratching, your hair loss can be permanent. 

Type 1 Diabetes

In type 1 diabetes, the immune cells destroy the insulin-producing cells in the anaemia. 

But the diabetes hair loss itself is likely to be a result of other autoimmune conditions that coexist with it, such as alopecia areata and pernicious anaemia. 

However, managing blood sugar and maintaining a healthy lifestyle might help you with your hair loss. 

How To Stop Hair Loss From Autoimmune Diseases?

To stop hair loss from autoimmune diseases, it’s important to get treatment for the disease itself. 

Managing the symptoms of this condition might help you eliminate some of the causes of hair loss. For instance, if you’re able to have a better quality of life through treatments, it may help with stress hair loss

Treatment for autoimmune disease can include immunosuppressants, steroids, anti-inflammatory medicines, replacement therapies, etc. It depends on what autoimmune disease you have. 

Other than that, it might also help you to eat healthy and have a healthy lifestyle. You should also make sure to stay gentle with your hair, so the hair fall isn’t worsened.  

Conclusion

There are many, many autoimmune diseases. And there are many different ways in which they can affect the hair follicles on your skin. 

They can directly attack your hair follicles or cause changes in which your hair ends up suffering. 

While the disease itself is considered much bigger than the loss of hair, it can cause a lot of stress and frustration. So, it shouldn’t be just dismissed. 

If you’re losing your hair as well (more than usual), it’s important to get in touch with a qualified medical professional. They’ll get to the root cause of the problem and prepare your hair loss treatment plan accordingly. 

Reviewed and Approved by Dr. Cagla Yuksel.

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