Autoimmune Diseases That Cause Hair Loss
Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Sheryl George
Health is one of those things that, when it’s good, you probably don’t think twice about it. But when something’s going on, it can feel like you’re on an epic Google quest to find out what’s happening.
For guys, hair loss can be male pattern baldness, which is primarily chalked up to genetics. But hair loss can also be a sign of something bigger, and when it comes to autoimmune diseases like alopecia areata or Hashimoto’s disease, it can often be another not-so-fun situation to deal with.
In this article, we’ll cover various autoimmune diseases that cause hair loss, along with how you can potentially treat said hair loss.
Autoimmune Diseases That Cause Hair Loss
Several autoimmune diseases can cause hair loss — we’ll cover some of the most common ones below.
While we love to be your safe place on the Internet, we’re still gonna recommend seeing a healthcare provider for a diagnosis and medical advice. In the meantime, we’ll fill you in on some autoimmune diseases that may trigger hair loss.
This autoimmune condition affects about 2 percent of the population. It’s the most common form of non-scarring hair loss after male pattern baldness.
Alopecia areata typically presents itself in tell-tale signs of ring-shaped patches of hair loss (versus diffuse thinning you may see in something like male pattern baldness) when the immune system attacks the hair follicle. While it usually occurs on the scalp, it can also lead to loss of body hair.
Alopecia areata can come from various autoimmune diseases, including atopic dermatitis, asthma, hay fever and vitiligo, as well as thyroid diseases and Down syndrome.
Other diseases often linked to alopecia areata as causes of hair loss include lichen planopilaris, frontal fibrosing alopecia, multiple sclerosis, thyroid disease, irritable bowel syndrome, lupus erythematosus and diabetes mellitus.
Frequently linked to alopecia areata, lupus erythematosus (LE) is a chronic multisystemic disease that’s typically more common in women than men. Side effects of lupus can include joint pain, seizures and oral ulcers.
Hair loss in lupus patients can often look dry and coarse, especially in the frontal hairline. Lupus-specific types of hair loss, like discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE), can include irregular skin pigmentation, scaly papules and plaques. Lupus non-specific alopecias can include anagen effluvium, telogen effluvium and alopecia areata.
Among the diseases linked to alopecia areata hair loss, thyroid disorders have the highest frequency of association. This makes sense, as thyroid hormones are essential for hair follicles to grow and maintain strands of hair.
Hashimoto’s disease is chronic autoimmune thyroiditis, the most common form of hypothyroidism. Five percent of alopecia areata patients have also been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, and roughly 9 percent have some form of thyroid dysfunction.
With this disease, antithyroid antibodies attack thyroid tissue, and with it comes several side effects. These can include myxedema (an edema-like skin condition), dry skin, fatigue and weight gain.
Slow hair growth and dry, brittle texture can occur with Hashimoto’s disease. Additionally, diffuse or partial alopecia can be seen. If this is something you’re dealing with, learn more in our guide to thyroid hair loss.
One study on 135 females with various forms of alopecia found that telogen effluvium (about 62 percent) and female pattern hair loss (roughly 24 percent) were the most common.
Thyroid issues were detected in 17 percent of those diagnosed with telogen effluvium — about 10 percent of all subjects had hypothyroidism, and around 7 percent had hyperthyroidism.
While research is limited, major abnormalities in thyroid serum levels seem to influence hair growth (or a lack thereof). Other symptoms of Graves disease include warm and moist skin, fine tremors, tachycardia (a heart rate over 100 beats per minute) and palmar erythema (red palms).
Psoriasis (a skin disorder that shot to fame when Kim Kardashian was diagnosed with it) is a chronic inflammatory skin condition. While psoriasis can affect various parts of the body, scalp psoriasis may lead to hair loss.
Telogen effluvium seems to be the root cause in most cases due to inflammation and trauma. But we have good news: Hair regrowth can be possible once the inflammation is treated.
That said, it’s important to see a healthcare provider ASAP so it doesn’t develop into something more traumatic. Psoriasis can be a factor of secondary cicatricial alopecia, which could potentially progress to scarring alopecia, which (bad news) is permanent.
Get more in-depth deets on psoriasis and hair loss in our tell-all guide.
Crohn’s Disease and Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Gut disorders like Crohn’s disease and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can lead to hair loss, among other issues. However, there’s a lack of research when it comes specifically to Crohn’s disease and hair loss.
If you’re dealing with other inflammatory issues like lichen planopilaris, see our guide for a deeper dive.
IBD can present itself in various ways, but beyond tummy troubles, hair loss is something many patients report. According to case reports, hair loss has been linked to autoimmune diseases like alopecia areata and telogen effluvium, as well as medications commonly used for IBD, such as azathioprine and infliximab.
Inflammatory bowel disease may cause nutritional deficiencies, including vitamin B12 and iron, which have also been associated with hair loss. In one study on 150 patients with IBD, 33 percent reported hair loss as a symptom.
So, nope, it’s not just in your head if you feel like your hair has been thinning while dealing with a gut disorder.
Hims has helped thousands of men regrow their hair
Is Hair Loss From an Autoimmune Disease Treatable?
When it comes to autoimmune disease hair loss, there aren’t any FDA-approved treatments for hair loss currently. The best course of action is to work with your healthcare provider to manage the symptoms of your autoimmune condition by addressing the root cause.
For example, several treatments may help promote hair regrowth in alopecia areata, but they won’t change the diagnosis of the disease.
One recommended treatment for alopecia areata is corticosteroids, which can either be injected directly into the bald spot or used as topical applications. Both will be prescription-strength, as recommended by a dermatologist.
In one trial, 71 percent of participants saw improvements in hair growth with corticosteroids compared to just 7 percent of the control group.
Below, we’ve highlighted popular hair loss treatments, which (alongside the appropriate medications for your autoimmune disease) may help restore some of your crowning glory.
Still, always seek medical advice from your healthcare provider or dermatologist to determine the right game plan for your specific needs.
Finasteride. This once-daily pill helps target DHT (dihydrotestosterone), the hormone that leads to male pattern baldness.
Topical finasteride & minoxidil spray. A quick-drying spray, this formula combines the powers of two effective hair growth ingredients, minoxidil and finasteride, to help kickstart hair growth.
Minoxidil foam. Commonly sold under the brand name Rogaine®, minoxidil is typically the first line of defense for thinning hair and male pattern baldness. In one study, participants with alopecia areata showed signs of hair growth by 38 percent and 81 percent when treated with 1% and 5% formulations of topical minoxidil, respectively. Hims has a 5% strength minoxidil foam and a 2% minoxidil solution that can help promote new healthy hair.
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No matter the treatment plan, the best place to start is somewhere. Early action is the best hair loss prevention.
Autoimmune Diseases and Hair Loss: What to Do Next
We know dealing with health issues isn’t easy. If you’re seeing tell-tale signs of thinning hair, consulting a healthcare professional is your first priority — particularly if you have no known autoimmune diseases.
Whether you have a thyroid disorder or gut issues, seeking medical advice from a healthcare provider is the best course of action. While some places on the Internet (ahem, like here) can be legit, many aren’t. So it’s crucial to get a diagnosis from a medical professional. With the right medications and lifestyle changes, managing your condition is possible. Here’s how to figure out the right steps to treat hair loss in conjunction with caring for your autoimmune disease.
Act fast. If you’re noticing new symptoms (whether it’s fatigue or bald patches), make note and don’t let the issue linger. Getting your health in order quickly is your best bet for successful treatment.
Speak with a healthcare provider. They’ll be able to run the necessary lab tests and examinations to give you a proper diagnosis and the appropriate medications that go along with it.
Consider a science-backed hair loss treatment to use alongside medication. Your dermatology or healthcare provider can give you the best treatment options and make sure there aren’t any potential interactions or side effects to be aware of.
If you’re looking to learn a little more, read about how to stop alopecia areata from spreading in our blog.
If you’re ready to get a hair consultation ASAP, we got you. Setting up an appointment is easy and requires no waiting rooms.