Graves Disease Hair Loss Causes & Treatment

Graves Disease Hair Loss Causes & Treatment

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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 diseases 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 Graves disease and its relation with hair loss.

What is Graves’ Disease?

The hypothalamus and pituitary gland 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 thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH).

This travels to the pituitary gland and stimulates the production of thyroid-stimulating hormones (TSH). This 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 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.

The thyroid gland regulates the metabolic rate, breathing rate, heartbeat, body temperature, weight, brain development and digestive function. The hormonal fluctuations can result in a range of symptoms that can occur due to Graves disease.

According to the NHS, 3 out 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. An overactive thyroid gland may cause the following signs and symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • 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?

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. What happens is that normally, the hair root is getting all the nutrients through blood vessels in the scalp. This helps the hair grow.

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. This means that the lost hair is not getting replaced by new hair.

Moreover, 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.

You will also not 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 can lead to hair loss in different ways. Let’s take a look at them:

Telogen Effluvium

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 won’t immediately notice thinning. It can be a few months before it starts shedding. You can end losing as much as 70% of your hair due to telogen effluvium.

Antithyroid Drugs

In rare cases, antithyroid drugs can result in hair loss. Your doctor may prescribe thyroid medication to decrease the production of thyroid hormones: T3 and T4. A side effect of drugs like methimazole, carbimazole and propylthiouracil is hair loss. However, 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. What can happen is that stopping the treatment for Graves’ disease can end up worsening hair loss that is occurring because of the thyroid condition and not its drugs.

Other Autoimmune Disorders

The development of one autoimmune condition increases the risk of other autoimmune disorders. 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 hair loss, along with Graves disease hair loss.

There may also be a relationship between hyperthyroidism and polycystic ovarian syndrome. It may result in hair thinning, although more research is needed in this area.

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. Other than hair loss, you will also have other symptoms of thyroid dysfunction, so it can be treated early on. 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 usually results in diffuse hair loss. 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 among 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.

The hair loss symptom 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.

How To Manage Graves Disease Hair Loss?

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, hair loss can add to your stress. But it also causes hair loss. We can recommend different coping tips for 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 hair loss. These can help stimulate hair growth after Graves’ disease.

To Summarize

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. Fortunately, it is reversible. You can also try some home remedies to better manage hair loss. But you will have to wait till the hormones fall in the optimal range.

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