Hair Loss & Lupus

Alopecia and Lupus. Christian Martinez Kempin / Getty Images

Simply put, alopecia is the medical term for hair loss, and in people with lupus, it can be one of the first signs that the disease is present. Around 45 percent of those with lupus will experience some form of alopecia, usually at the beginning of the disease.

Often, this early hair loss is caused by lupus-associated skin disease – either chronic discoid lupus or subacute cutaneous lupus – that interferes with the normal function of the hair follicle.

Medications used to treat lupus can also cause hair loss, prednisone in particular, but other immunosuppressives as well.

In both cases, hair loss is reversible once treatment begins or, in the case of drug-induced hair loss, as treatment is adjusted.

Normal Growth vs. Hair Loss

It’s not unusual to wash your hair and find a number of stray hairs in the bathtub. Sometimes, it may even seem like more than normal. But losing 50 to 100 hairs a day is perfectly common.

Generally speaking, 90 percent of a person’s hair is growing at any given moment, with the remaining 10 percent in a “resting phase.” The growth phase can last from two to six years, after which the hair follicle enters resting phase, which lasts about three months. After the resting phase, hair is shed. A new hair grows where the last one shed, and the cycle begins anew.

There are several reasons why a person might experience excessive hair loss – where hair thins markedly our falls out in clumps or patches.

Those reasons include:

  • Heredity: Known medically as androgenetic alopecia, hereditary hair loss and thinning is the most common cause of hair loss. Typically, women will experience thinning hair while men will experience thinning hair, baldness or both. There is no cure for this form of hair loss, but medical treatments may help stem the onset.
  • Alopecia Areata: A bit of a mystery, this form of hair loss is believed to be an autoimmune disease in which the body forms antibodies that attack its own hair. The disease causes hair loss marked by totally smooth, round patches about the size of a coin or larger. It may even result in complete loss of scalp and body hair – though this is rare. Luckily, in most instances, hair will regrow.
  • Chemical Treatments: Hair dyes, tints, bleaches, straighteners and other hair products with chemicals can cause weakness of the hair, making it brittle and causing it to break and fall out. If you encounter this form of alopecia, simply stop using chemical treatments until your hair has a chance to grow out.

Talk to your dermatologist about the best options for you.

Skin Changes in People with Systemic Lupus. Lupus Foundation of America. November 2008.

Hair Loss American Academy of Dermatology. November 2008.

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