The Link Between Hair Loss and Stroke Risk Might Surprise You

Patchy hair loss is one of the most surprising clues that you are at an increased risk of stroke. A condition called alopecia areata describes uneven hair loss that does not at all look like the usual male pattern baldness or receding hairline that some men begin to experience as early as their twenties. Similarly, most women experience some degree of thinning hair, usually starting in the late thirties or early forties, but typically occurring gradually and distributed all over the head, not producing the bald spots that are a hallmark of alopecia areata.

Alopecia areata, the hair loss condition specifically linked with stroke risk, is very different from the usual hair loss patterns and is also much less common than the more prevalent types of hair loss. A recent research study has shown that individuals who suffer from alopecia areata have double the risk of stroke when compared to people who do not have the condition.

How to know if you have alopecia areata

Alopecia means hair loss and areata describes the fact that it occurs in certain concentrated areas. This condition produces sudden bald areas and typically affects young people beginning in their twenties, generally continuing in spurts throughout life. Alopecia areata’s signature small patchy bald spots can make you self-conscious from a cosmetic standpoint. Usually, the hair grows back, but it might be a slightly different texture and, later, hair loss can occur again in the same spots or in different spots.

Stress can cause alopecia areata to act up. It also turns out that, for some people, medical problems such as autoimmune disease and thyroid disease can be responsible for exacerbations of alopecia areata.

Patchy hair loss can also result from harsh chemical hair or scalp treatments, so alopecia areata doesn't always mean that you have a medical condition causing your hair loss.

It is important to get a professional medical evaluation to determine the cause, even if you can effectively take care of the cosmetic issues on your own or with the help of your hair stylist.

Male pattern baldness is normally gradual and causes either a circular area of thinning hair at the top of the head near the back and/or a receding hairline at the forehead. Women's hair loss generally produces slowly thinning hair all around the scalp as a result of hair falling out or breaking. Thinning hair in women can be stressful and often limits your hairstyle options, but it is not the same as alopecia areata and it is not associated with increase stroke risk.

Why is there a hair loss/ stroke link?

Alopecia areata can be caused by autoimmune disease or thyroid disorders. These same conditions are also known to produce serious alterations in the body's regular physiologic functions and set the stage for a stroke. Autoimmune conditions are disorders in which the body’s immune system attacks the body itself.

This self-attack can manifest in a number of different ways- whether by attacking hair follicles, causing them to break at the roots and producing alopecia areata or by causing stickiness of blood cells and blood cholesterol, triggering blood clots, hemorrhages, and strokes.

What can you do to lower your stroke risk if you are losing hair?

There are a number of effective steps you can take to reduce your risk of stroke if you have alopecia areata. First of all, you should get checked out for the main stroke risk factors, including hypertension, heart disease and high cholesterol. Secondly, because autoimmune disease can manifest as alopecia areata, your doctor will probably evaluate you for common indicators of autoimmune disease or thyroid disease, depending on whether you have other symptoms of either disorder. If it turns out that your medical examination or blood tests uncover any abnormalities, there are treatments to manage your underlying problem.

Overall, this link between alopecia areata isn’t a reason for alarm. It is simply a very early warning sign of possible stroke risk. This warning can be useful to you in managing your health so that you can stay healthy for the long run.

Sources:

Alopecia Areata Increases the Risk of Stroke: a 3-year Follow-Up Study, Kang JH, Lin HC, Kao S, Tsai MC, Chung SD, Scientific Reports, June 2015

Oxidative stress in alopecia areata: a case-control study, Bakry OA, Elshazly RM, Shoeib MA, Gooda A, American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, February 2015

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