It’s frustrating enough to lose hair but not knowing the reason is simply vexing. Many diseases can cause hair loss: alopecia areata, autoimmune disorders, and scalp infections. Graves disease is one such autoimmune thyroid disease caused by the overactive thyroid gland. This can cause Graves disease hair loss, among other symptoms.
The problem with hair loss due to autoimmune disorders is that their causes are still unknown. Moreover, their symptoms can take years to develop. It’s normal to lose hair every day. However, hair loss due to Graves disease will result in significant thinning.
You might also develop alopecia areata or celiac disease due to thyroid dysfunction. These thyroid conditions can cause hair loss in addition to Graves disease hair loss. There are different ways in which this autoimmune condition can affect your body. Therefore, let’s understand the relationship between Graves disease and hair loss.
What is Graves’ Disease?
The hypothalamus and pituitary gland in the brain together regulate the production of the hormones released by the butterfly-shaped thyroid gland. This gland is present at the base of the neck. The hypothalamus (a section of the brain) releases the thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH).
This travels to the pituitary gland and stimulates the production of thyroid-stimulating hormones (TSH), which ends up acting on the thyroid gland and results in the production of thyroid hormones – triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4).
In Graves’ disease, the body’s immune system backfires. It starts producing antibodies that attack the normal, healthy cells in the body. In this case, the antibody attacks the cells in the thyroid gland responsible for producing triiodothyronine and thyroxine. This results in an overproduction of these hormones, a condition known as hyperthyroidism.
The thyroid gland regulates the metabolic rate, breathing rate, heartbeat, body temperature, weight, brain development and digestive function. Hormonal fluctuations can result in a range of symptoms that can occur due to Graves disease.
According to the NHS, 3 out of 4 people who have hyperthyroidism have Graves’ disease. The disease can run in the family. Moreover, it is more common in women below the age of 40. Smoking, pregnancy and stress can also trigger it.
What Are the Symptoms of Graves’ Disease?
Graves’ disease can have wide-ranging symptoms. Knowing them may give you an idea of whether you’re experiencing Graves disease hair loss, or something else. An overactive thyroid gland may cause the following signs and symptoms:
- Weight loss
- Goitre (neck swelling)
- Rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)
- Physical fatigue
- Feeling hot and sweaty
- Hair loss
- Bulging, red, painful, and gritty eyes (Graves’ ophthalmopathy)
- Thick, red skin on shins or top of feet (Graves’ dermopathy)
- Irregular periods
- Difficulty sleeping
- Sexual dysfunction
- Tremor in hands
How to Diagnose Graves Disease Hair Loss?
For that, you need medical advice from your doctor. There are specialists known as endocrinologists that can give you a diagnosis. The specialist might begin with a physical exam. And since the disease tends to run in families, s/he will ask about your family history.
Graves disease is caused by “thyrotropin receptor antibody (TRAb)”. To determine its presence, a set of tests are performed. The doctor may also give you radioactive iodine to find out if the thyroid gland is using it more than normal.
Can Graves’ Disease Cause Hair Loss?
Yes, prolonged and severe Graves disease can cause hair loss.
In the normal life cycle of hair, the anagen (growth) phase is the longest. However, disruption in thyroid functioning impacts the roots of the hair follicles.
More and more hair enters the telogen phase, which is the resting phase; more hair gets lost than replaced.
Other than that, the risk of other autoimmune conditions causing hair loss during this time also increases. You might develop bald, circular patches on the scalp – alopecia areata. However, usually, with Graves’ disease, you’ll notice diffuse hair loss.
Keep in mind you won’t start losing your hair immediately. Due to the life cycle of the hair follicle, it may take months for you to start experiencing hair loss due to this autoimmune condition. Hair loss can take place in the eyebrows, eyelashes and other areas of the body.
What Causes Graves’ Disease Hair Loss?
Graves disease and hair loss are linked for a few reasons. Let’s take a look at them:
An underactive, or overactive thyroid can end up shocking the body. This shock can result in hair loss known as telogen effluvium.
When the level of thyroid hormones is above normal, as in Graves’ disease, the hair enters the resting phase. You can end up losing as much as 70% of your hair due to telogen effluvium.
In rare cases, antithyroid drugs can result in hair loss. Your doctor may prescribe thyroid medication to decrease the production of thyroid hormones.
However, a side effect of drugs like methimazole, carbimazole and propylthiouracil is hair loss. It is not possible to know whether the hair loss is occurring due to the antithyroid drugs or telogen effluvium due to the life cycle of the hair.
Therefore, you should not stop taking the medication without consulting the doctor. Stopping the treatment for Graves’ disease can end up worsening hair loss that is occurring because of the thyroid condition itself.
Other Autoimmune Disorders
The development of one autoimmune condition increases the risk of other autoimmune disorders. So, you may lose hair as a result of alopecia areata. It can, in some cases, cause permanent baldness.
According to John Hopkins University’s stats, 1% of the people with lupus have hyperthyroidism and 6% have hypothyroidism. Thus, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) can also result in hair loss. The tTG antibodies produced in Celiac disease can also cause shedding, along with Graves disease hair loss.
There may also be a relationship between hyperthyroidism and polycystic ovarian syndrome. It may exacerbate hair thinning, although more research is needed on this.
Is Graves Disease Hair Loss Permanent?
Fortunately, graves’ disease does not cause permanent hair loss. However, it is important that you start getting treatment for this autoimmune disease. Your thyroid hormones need to get back in their optimal range for the symptoms to go away.
It is important that you remain patient throughout the recovery process. It can take a few months for your hair to grow back. You might also notice a change in the colour and/or texture of your hair that’ll regrow.
How To Differentiate Between Graves Disease Hair Loss and Pattern Baldness?
Graves’ disease hair loss is usually diffuse. It may result in significant thinning, so much that you will be able to see your scalp. The hair can come out in handfuls. If, however, pattern baldness also runs in the family, you might wonder what’s exactly causing loss.
In male-pattern baldness, the hair loss occurs in discrete areas and not all over the scalp. Thinning occurs along the hairline and top of the head.
However, female pattern baldness is more difficult to distinguish from Graves disease hair loss as it also results in diffuse hair loss.
Hair loss can have different reasons here. To determine the exact cause, you need to get a check-up from a doctor. A blood test can clearly indicate if the hair loss is related to Graves’ disease.
What Is Graves Disease Hair Loss Treatment?
You will have to wait till the restoration of hormonal balance. Your doctor might prescribe antithyroid drugs or give radiation therapy. Some cases also need surgery. Till then, you can try a few things to better manage the loss of hair.
Be Gentle With Your Hair
First and foremost, make sure that you’re not using any shampoos, conditioners, or dyes with harsh chemicals in them.
Graves disease can make your hair brittle, so it’s important that you don’t tie your hair too tightly.
Also, avoid using straighteners, curlers, and rollers. Don’t give in to the tall claims of different hair products.
Try Stress Management
No doubt, Graves’ disease hair loss can add to your stress. But it also causes hair loss. There are different coping tips for stress from Graves disease and hair loss:
- You can consider joining a support group where you can discuss your experience with other people who’re going through the same thing.
- You need to accept this and focus on all the good things about yourself.
- Talking about it with other people, such as your friends, family, and/or loved ones, can help.
- You can consider wearing scarves, wigs, extensions or toupees.
Supplements and Healthy Diet
Make sure that you’re eating foods that are rich in protein and calcium. You can also take multivitamins for hair loss. Before taking any hair supplements or biotin, you should make sure to discuss it with your doctor. That’s because they can impact thyroid activity.
Biotin can boost the levels of T3 and T4, making it look like you have hyperthyroidism in your blood reports. If you’re taking it, inform your specialist about it before the blood test. Also, keep an eye on your iodine intake as it can cause a hormonal imbalance.
Thyroid conditions can decrease the level of iron in your blood. Iron deficiency can also cause hair loss. So, you can also take iron supplements for your graves disease hair loss treatment. These can help stimulate hair growth after Graves’ disease.
Graves’ disease occurs due to a mistake by the immune system. Its cause is unknown. It can cause hyperthyroidism, a symptom of which is hair loss.
The good news is that Graves disease hair loss is reversible. You can try some home remedies to better manage hair loss. But you will have to wait till the balance of hormones is restored (for which you need treatment).
Book a free consultation right now to find out more about your hair loss and its treatment options.
Reviewed and Approved by Dr. Hassan Soueid.