Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease characterized by widespread pain, rashes, and inflammation throughout the body affecting joints, skin, and organs – notably the kidneys and heart. Similar to other autoimmune diseases, lupus causes your body’s immune system to attack healthy tissue.
Another common symptom of lupus is brittle hair, thinning hair, or hair loss… which for some may even be one of the earliest signs of lupus. So how is lupus-related hair loss diagnosed and treated?
Lupus Patients and Hair Loss
Lupus has four different variants:
- Systemic lupus erythematosus (also known as SLE) – which is the most common.
- Cutaneous lupus – which only affects the skin.
- Drug-induced lupus.
- Neonatal lupus (a rare form)
Lupus.org estimates that 66% of people who have lupus develop skin disease. While lupus can cause hair loss due to the scalp becoming inflamed, medications used to help treat lupus can also cause hair loss. If medications (including steroids and immunosuppressives) are the cause of your hair loss, your doctor might be able to alter your treatment to prevent or slow down this adverse side effect.
Scarring vs. Non-Scarring Hair Loss
To understand why lupus itself causes hair loss, we need to look at the actual underlying cause: Skin Inflammation.
Lupus-related hair loss falls into two categories – scarring and non-scarring. Discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE) causes scalp rashes, sores, and lesions which result in scarring and hair loss due to permanently damaged hair follicles. Patients who suffer from DLE may only experience localized skin issues.
Patients who suffer from SLE, which includes about 70% of all lupus cases, typically have what is known as non-scarring hair loss. It isn’t permanent, fortunately, but it does result in greater than average hair loss and short, fragile, and brittle hair found at the edge of the hairline – which results in “lupus hair”.
The thinning or hair loss is due to the hair follicles entering the telogen effluvium, or resting state. This resting state lasts for three months, after which it enters the growing or anagen state. SLE can also cause you to lose hair all over the body including underarms, eyebrows, and eyelashes.
Living with Hair Loss
Hair loss can be quite challenging to accept for many patients. For those who are dealing with a chronic illness, it can be a depressing and psychologically traumatizing side effect. Patients who experience hair loss, whether permanent or not, should do what they can to take care of their hair while undergoing treatment.
While getting your lupus under control is your best option, we do have some suggestions for maintaining your hair:
- Change your medicine if possible: Since some hair loss is related to lupus treatments, speak with your doctor to determine your options for alternative medications.
- No harsh chemicals: Lupus.org suggests using baby shampoo and avoiding chemical treatments that could damage your hair.
- No pulling: This might be difficult for patients who have longer hair but try to avoid tight ponytails or buns, according to the Lupus Foundation of America. This pressure could cause hair to fall out faster.
Hair Loss Replacement Options
At RHRLI, we understand that hair loss is an emotional and distressing event. It can be quite traumatizing, especially when you are already coping with a chronic and painful disease. We invite you to speak to our resident hair replacement surgeon, Dr. Baiju Gohil, to schedule a free, private consultation to learn if hair transplant surgery is the right option for you. Please call our office at (516) 605-1545 or email us to schedule a consultation.