I sometimes get emails from folks who have had a positive ANA (antinuclear antibody test) from blood work or suspect that they have an autoimmune disorder which has contributed to changes in their hair including loss, shedding, thinning, and changes in color and texture. In the following article, I'll go over some well know and not so well known autoimmune conditions that commonly contribute to hair changes or loss and tell you how they often affect the hair and scalp.
Alopecia Areata (AA): When most people think of autoimmune hair loss, AA is typically the first thing that comes to their mind. This condition is known as the reason that Princess Caroline of Monaco temporarily lost her hair. The condition most often presents itself in hair loss that is defined by bald spots that are round and patchy. Often, the hair around the patches is totally normal, but the round patchy areas are smooth and sometimes completely bald.
Another condition that goes hand in hand with AA is alopecia areata universalis. In this case, you will often have hair loss over the entire body including the whole head (often total baldness) as well as other areas like eye lashes, eyebrows, pubic hair, the beard area, the under arms, etc. Sometimes when this process is ongoing, you'll see “exclamation point hairs.” These are hairs that are broken off and are tapered so that they are much narrower the closer you get the scalp. They flare out on the broken ends.
There is a lot of controversy over what actually causes AA. Most agree that it is autoimmune in nature, but some believe that it is aggravated by stress, allergies, or viruses. Treatment is often oral steroids, corticosteroid injections, or experimental stimulation of the scalp with herbs like rosemary and lavender.
Lupus And Hair Loss: Probably the second most common autoimmune disorder known to cause hair issues is lupus or systemic lupus erythematosus. Often folks with this condition are affected with a malar rash that can affect the scalp, and cause scarring which can lead to temporary or permanent hair loss. You can see exclamation point hairs with lupus as well.
Thyroid Issues: Graves Disease And Hashimoto's Thyroiditis: Many people who think of thyroid issues and hair loss are aware of hypothyroidism, but many are not aware of the autoimmune thyroid issues. The first of these is graves disease where you will generally see the hair become much more fine and you'll see more pronounced loss. The texture just becomes a lot more limp and unable to hold a style. The stands can become lighter in color also. The opposite is true with Hashimoto's. In this instance, the hair becomes very coarse and dry, but hair loss is accelerated none the less.
Less Well Known Autoimmune Disorders That May Affect The Hair: In truth, almost any disorder that has an autoimmune component can affect the hair or cause thinning, shedding, or loss. This includes things like rheumatoid arthritis, intestinal cystitis and fibromyalgia, (although not every one agrees that these two fall into this category), celiac disease, and guillain-barre syndrome, to name only a few.
Inflammation Lessening Drugs And Hair Loss: Many of the drugs that are given for these disorders are given to reduce the inflammatory process and this actually seems to fit quite nicely with hair loss treatment, as there is almost always an inflammation component to it. However, many of the steroids often used have the unfortunate side effect of more shedding or loss, so often the patient is left wondering if it's the disorder that is affecting their hair or the medication that is being used to treat it. It's often prudent to focus on a healthy diet and healthy, natural ways to support a healthy scalp and reduce inflammation while stimulating healthy regrowth.