There are many illnesses that can cause a person to lose their hair. However, people who’re suffering from long-term chronic illnesses have to constantly deal with the symptoms of the disease. Lupus is one such chronic disease whose symptoms come and go away.
People with lupus can get treatment for it, but there is no permanent cure. Those who have lupus may experience joint pain and stiffness, fatigue, and a butterfly-shaped rash across their face. Lupus hair loss can also accompany these symptoms.
Lupus hair loss worries those who suffer from the disease. Since it comes and goes away and there is no cure for it, it can eventually make your hair thinner and less dense. To understand the relationship between lupus and hair loss, let’s first find out what is lupus.
What is Lupus?
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease in which a person’s immune system starts attacking healthy tissues and organs. The disease can cause inflammation and damage different organs of the body, including the kidney, heart, lungs, and blood.
Someone who has lupus cannot pass it on to another person since the disease is not contagious. However, it is possible for a pregnant woman with lupus to give birth to a child who has a form of lupus.
Types of Lupus
Let’s take a look at the types of lupus disease.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
There are different types of lupus disease. Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is the most common form. According to the Lupus Foundation of America, 70% of people with lupus have this type. It results in the production of autoantibodies (antibodies that target an individual’s own proteins).
The exact cause of systemic lupus erythematosus isn’t known. However, SLE tends to run in families. Women are more likely to develop it between the ages of 15 and 44. SLE results in inflammation and affects the skin, joints, heart, lungs, nervous system, and kidneys. The person suffering from SLE can also feel fatigued.
Cutaneous lupus is limited to the skin, but it has further types. In acute cutaneous lupus, the person may develop a rash in the shape of a butterfly across their cheeks and nose.
Subacute cutaneous lupus is a more serious type. In this, the person may develop a non-scarring rash as a result of sun exposure.
Discoid lupus, a chronic form of cutaneous lupus, may result in the formation of photosensitive lesions that are in the shape of a coin. It can affect a small area or spread to a larger area. This can lead to hair loss and scarring, along with skin discolouration.
Drug-Induced Lupus (DIL)
Drug-induced lupus can result in the appearance of systemic lupus erythematosus-like symptoms. It develops as a result of exposure to certain drugs, such as antibiotics, anticonvulsants, and antihypertensives. It is not necessary that lupus develops immediately after the intake of these medicines; it may appear after months or even years.
Neonatal lupus develops when a child acquires “anti-SSA/Ro and/or anti-SSB/La antibodies” from the mother. It is a rare condition in which the child may develop non-scarring lesions. A more serious complication arising from neonatal lupus is congenital heart block.
How is Lupus Diagnosed and Treated?
Diagnosing lupus is problematic because its symptoms overlap with those of other diseases. Your doctor may diagnose that you have lupus by asking you about your medical history. They will also ask if there is another person in your family who has lupus or any other autoimmune disease.
Since the disease results in an abnormal production of autoantibodies, the doctor might ask you to take blood and urine tests. A skin or kidney biopsy might also be needed. Other than that, the doctor will look for other symptoms of lupus on your body, such as rashes.
There is no cure for lupus. A person who has lupus can get a treatment that improves the symptoms of the disease. It may help reduce swelling and pain resulting from lupus, prevent flare-ups, and reduce the damage your organs are incurring due to the immune system’s response.
To prescribe any treatment, the doctor will need to learn more about your symptoms. Depending on how severe they are, medicine is prescribed. It is possible that your symptoms of lupus change over time.
Your doctor will then re-adjust your medications according to the symptoms that you are experiencing. Medications for treatments of lupus include corticosteroids, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), immunosuppressants, and biologics.
Can Lupus Cause Hair Loss?
Someone who has lupus might shed their hair more than what’s considered normal (100 hair strands a day according to the American Academy of Dermatology). They might notice their hair shedding when washing or brushing them.
Not everyone experiences lupus hair loss, but it is quite common. Hair thinning can occur all over the scalp or just be concentrated in one area, such as the hairline. Also, hair loss due to lupus doesn’t just affect the scalp; you can lose your eyebrows, eyelashes, facial hair, and body hair.
There are more than a few reasons for lupus hair loss. First of all, since it may result from an autoimmune response, the cells in hair follicles may be targeted, damaging them. In addition, the condition results in inflammation and the formation of non-scarring rashes, which can have the same effect.
It’s the discoid lesions that are the most problematic since they result in scarring alopecia, causing permanent damage to the hair follicle. Lastly, immunosuppressants and corticosteroids prescribed for the treatment of lupus can also cause hair loss.
Is Lupus Hair Loss Permanent?
Depending on the reason for the hair loss, it may be reversible or irreversible. Lupus hair loss due to inflammation is reversible. It is non-scarring, so the person can grow their hair back.
Although unfortunately, lupus hair loss from scarring lesions on the scalp is irreversible. The hair loss is permanent in this case.
How To Treat Hair Loss From Lupus?
In the case that the lupus hair loss is reversible, you have to wait till the disease goes into remission and you have successfully recovered from its symptoms.
To take better care of your hair, make sure that you’re eating healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables. Also, consult your doctor before taking any supplements for hair loss since they can interfere with the medicines that you’re taking for lupus.
Try to exercise since it can help with stress, something which can trigger lupus. Moreover, try to get adequate sleep.
Certain types of lupus can be triggered due to exposure to the sun. Therefore, you should avoid direct sun exposure. When you do step out, wear sun protection.
To take further care of your hair, try to avoid using any harsh chemicals on your hair or any hair straightening, rolling, curling tools. The heat can cause further damage to your hair. Tight hairstyles should also be avoided.
Moreover, use hair care products that keep your hair moisturized so that they are not prone to breakage due to dryness. Ask your derm for any special shampoo for lupus hair loss. Keep in mind some treatments that are used for other hair loss types may not work for lupus hair loss.
Can Lupus Hair Loss Patients Have Hair Transplant?
People who have lupus can get hair transplant surgery. However, the surgery can only take place when the disease is in remission. If someone has a flare-up with an active skin rash, we cannot perform a hair transplant.
The surgery can only be performed once the rash has cleared up. Although someone with permanent hair loss due to scarring lesions might not be suitable for restoration surgery.
Since it’s an autoimmune disease, there are risks that come with hair transplant surgery. The severity of the symptoms can also vary between patients and can change over time. So, we cannot say that everyone with lupus who gets hair transplant surgery will end up with the same results.
It’s hard to determine how the body of the person with lupus will act after surgery has taken place. The patient needs to understand that having lupus hair transplant surgery means that it will come with unpredictable risks. Even after the surgery, you have to be careful about the different triggers of lupus; they can also impact the final results of the surgery.
There’s a lot about lupus that is still unknown. Awareness regarding lupus increased when the singer and actress, Selena Gomez, revealed that she had lupus back in 2015.
We know that it is an autoimmune disease in which a person’s body turns on itself. This can cause damage to the hair follicles in different areas of the body, including the scalp, which can result in lupus hair loss. Sometimes the hair loss is reversible, and sometimes, it is irreversible.
Lupus patients can get hair transplant surgery in some cases, but they have to wait for the disease to be in remission. The surgery comes with unpredictable risks due to the condition. Make sure to discuss this with your doctor and hair transplant surgeon.
Reviewed and Approved by Dr. Hassan Soueid.