Six Facts About Autoimmune Diseases and Hair Loss

For many of us our appearance; our hair, the colour of our eyes, the way we dress and do our make up, is central to our identity. Losing a part of that identity can cause us to feel as though we are losing a sense of ourselves. This is often the case with hair loss.

While some people who experience hair loss may take it in their stride, for others, hair loss can be a blow to mental health and sense of identity. Understanding more about hair loss and its causes can help you to deal with something that is otherwise out of your control.

Although hair loss is usually something that we associate with men of a certain age, it can also affect younger men, as well as women of any age. Usually, when women experience hair loss, there is some kind of explanation. Knowing why you are suffering from hair loss can help you to come to terms with a situation that is otherwise out of your control; it can help medical professionals to determine the best hair loss treatment for you.

  1. What is hair loss?

Our hair is so closely linked with our sense of identity, that it is one of the conditions that men and women dread most. And yet, 25% of women and more than half of men over 50 will experience hair loss.

  1. What causes hair loss?

While ageing may be the first thing we think of when we mention hair loss, particularly in relation to people over a certain age, there are in fact many causes of hair loss including hormone changes (such as pregnancy, puberty and menopause), certain medications, and good old genetics.. Lifestyle plays a role, too; stress levels, emotional trauma, diet can all contribute to hair loss as well as the overall condition of your hair, skin and nails.  

One of the most common causes of hair loss, particularly hair loss affecting those under the age of 50, is autoimmune disease. 

  1. What is an autoimmune disease?

Autoimmune diseases are things that most people have probably heard of at some point, but you won’t really know much about until you or a loved one is diagnosed with one. Broadly speaking, an autoimmune disease is a condition where a person’s own immune system mistakenly recognises part of their body as a threat, so attacks it. Autoimmune diseases have a range of symptoms and can sometimes be difficult to diagnose. Diagnosis can come with conflicting emotions; relief that the cause of mysterious symptoms has been identified, anxiety for the future, and, often, a sense of betrayal that your own body could let itself (and you) down. Common autoimmune diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, Chron’s disease and colitis. 

  1. Symptoms of autoimmune diseases

All autoimmune diseases have unique sets of symptoms, and will affect people differently. However, there are a few symptoms that are often shared between people living with different autoimmune conditions. These include fatigue, skin rashes, digestive issues/ abdominal pain, swollen glands, pain and swelling in the joints, and a recurring fever. For many people with a diagnosed autoimmune disease, the path to diagnoses has been long, tiring and frustrating, as there are so many possible causes of such symptoms and there is not one single test to identify these conditions. 

  1. Which autoimmune diseases can cause hair loss?

Alopecia areata is known to have a link to autoimmune disorder. When someone has alopecia, their immune system is attacking the hair follicles, causing hair to fall out and preventing regrowth. There are different types of alopecia, which can lead to patchy hair loss – alopecia areata, hair loss on the entire head- alopecia areata totalis, and hair loss all over the body – alopecia areata universalis. The good news is that although the immune system attacks the hair follicles, it doesn’t kill them, so the hair can theoretically grow back. 

Other conditions that are known to be linked to hair loss include Chron’s disease and colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, psoriasis, Graves disease, and Hashimoto’s disease. 

  1. Can hair loss be treated?

If you are suffering from hair loss, there are some things that you can do to alleviate the symptom. 

The first step to take is to focus on your physical and emotional wellbeing. Eat a healthy, fresh diet full of anti-inflammatory foods such as leavy veg, berries, oily fish and tomatoes and consider taking supplements if you feel that you need them. Mental health is important, so take some time out to improve your mental wellbeing, and get regular exercise to improve your mental and physical health. 

If you continue to struggle with hair loss, there are some medications that can help. Avodart is a hair loss treatment that may be recommended for men or women suffering from hair loss, while Propecia and Finasteride often have good results for men. As regulated medications, these hair loss treatments are available on prescription in the UK. You can obtain a private prescription (which you will have to pay for) from your GP, or you can head to an online pharmacy where you will be able to complete an online consultation. 

As with all medications, different people will see different levels of success. While focusing on the external manifestation of your condition may help you to regain some element of control on your life, it is important to recognise that your hair does not define who you are. Start by taking care of your body and mind in order to regain balance in your life. If you can embrace your body – autoimmune deficiencies and all – you will find it easier to live with – and learn to love – yourself as you are.