Autoimmune diseases are a grouping of more than 80 chronic diseases, which are frequently debilitating and sometimes life-threatening. The National Institutes of Health estimates that up to seven percent of the population – that’s up to 23.5 million Americans – have an autoimmune disease.
Can Your Immune System Cause Hair Loss?
In an autoimmune disease, an individual’s immune system attacks some part of their body instead of the usual germs, viruses, etc. Under normal circumstances, the immune system recognizes the difference between invading bacteria and its own body, but for people with an autoimmune condition it becomes confused, and white blood cells attack some part of the body. Hair follicles are one thing that can be affected by an autoimmune disease, leading to hair loss.
What Autoimmune Diseases Can Cause Hair Loss?
Unfortunately, more than one autoimmune disorder can lead to partial or complete hair loss. Among the autoimmune diseases that can lead to some form of hair loss are:
- Alopecia areata
- Alopecia Universalis
- Hashimoto’s disease
- Graves’ disease
- Crohn’s disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
In the case of lupus, the disease causes inflammation in relation to the skin, with much of it concentrated on the face and scalp, gradually leading to thinning hair. The disease can also make hair along the hairline fragile, causing it to break easily. Some people refer to that appearance as “lupus hair”.
Lupus not only affects hair on the scalp but also eyelashes, eyebrows, and beards. Lupus can also cause discoid lesions and scar the scalp. Whereas in many cases hair can grow back as lupus is treated those who lose their hair due to discord lesion scarring on the scalp will not regain hair.
Alopecia areata starts as small patches of hair loss, which can often go unnoticed. Eventually, the patches can connect, forming obvious hair loss. It usually affects the scalp but can also lead to loss of eyebrow, eyelash and facial hair in some cases.
Alopecia areata can eventually turn into alopecia universalis. Also an autoimmune disorder, in alopecia universalis, hair is lost all over the body. That means not just scalp, facial, eyelash, and eyebrow hair but also, the hair on the arms, legs, pubic region, and even nasal hair.
What Medications Cause Hair Loss?
Sometimes it’s not the autoimmune disease that causes hair loss, but the medication used to treat it. In other cases, it’s a mix of both.
Among the medications that can cause hair loss are:
Methotrexate: is a commonly prescribed disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD) that causes hair loss in about 1-3 percent of users. The medication stops cells from growing, including hair follicles.
Leflunomide: Also known as Arava, this DMARD is frequently prescribed with methotrexate. It can cause hair loss in about 10 percent of users.
Biologics: This class of drugs includes etanercept, also known as Enbrel, and adalimumab, also known as Humira. It’s unclear how these drugs cause hair loss but the theory is that they alter the balance of cytokines in the body, which are known as messenger molecules.
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