Lupus is a systemic autoimmune disease, in which the body’s healthy tissues and organs get attacked by the immune system, which becomes hyperactive. It leads to inflammation and swelling, including damage to joints, kidneys, brain, heart, lungs and blood cells. More prevalent in females than males, this is not a contagious disease, although in some instances women who have lupus can give birth to children having neonatal lupus.
A very distinctive mark of this disease is a butterfly-shaped rash along with hair loss. Now, this hair loss can be from the disease itself or from the medications taken to treat it. 45% of people who have lupus also suffer from hair loss at some point in their lives. This hair loss, commonly known as lupus hair, is also one of the first few signs of the disease. Generally, with lupus, two types of hair loss are observed; scarring and non-scarring. While scarring hair loss is linked to discoid lupus ( which mainly affects the skin), non-scarring is linked to systemic lupus.
In case of non-scarring hair loss, one might lose hair all on their scalp or only in a particular localised area. In case of localised hair loss, the front part of the scalp is affected. It might also affect hair growth along the hairline, making it brittle and fragile, leading to eventual hair loss. The hair loss pattern also differs, as one might gradually lose hair or find that it is falling out in clumps. Furthermore, other than the scalp, hair loss is seen on different parts of the body like eyebrows and eyelashes.
The most common concern amongst people suffering from hair loss due to lupus is whether their lost hair will grow back or not. In most cases, if one receives treatment, then their hair does grow back. In some instances, however, lupus leads to the formation of round lesions on the scalp, also known as discoid. The lesions may scar hair follicles, leading to permanent hair loss.
Although hair loss can be a warning sign for lupus, it is normal for someone to shed around 50 to 100 hairs per day. Experts say the numbers may slightly increase when you wash your hair. While 90% of our hair grows, the remaining 10% is at a resting phase, also known as the telogen phase. Telogen phase lasts for around 100 days, after which hair falls. New hair then grows in place of the lost hair.
Since there can be many reasons for hair loss, like genetics, alopecia areata, fungal infections and thyroid to name a few, it is imperative to consult your doctor to determine the exact reason for the same. In case your hair loss is due to lupus, and you don’t have discoid lesions, then in most cases, the hair loss would be reversible with treatment. Some common therapies include corticosteroids, immunosuppressants and antimalarial drugs to reduce lupus flare-ups. Patience is the key here because it might take months for your lupus to go into remission.
Although it is difficult to prevent hair loss from lupus, here are certain things you can do to help control the situation:
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- Watch what you eat:
Following a healthy diet, especially one rich in vitamins, proteins, iron, zinc, and biotin helps to strengthen and nourish your hair, thereby preventing hair loss. You can even ask your doctor for supplements to help improve hair quality.
- Reduce Stress:
Stress is one of the main culprits behind hair loss. Coming to people who have lupus, it can just further aggravate the situation. Stress-relieving techniques like meditation and yoga are recommended to help combat stress.
- Reduce exposure to sunlight:
Although the sun is an essential source of vitamin D, which is good for your hair, for those who have lupus, it is best to avoid the sun since it can trigger lupus flares and discoid lesions. When outside, protect your hair from heat and sunlight by wearing a cap or a hat.
- Ask your doctor for alternative medication:
In case you feel that your medications have triggered further hair loss, speak to your doctor about the same. They can prescribe you alternative medicines to help control the situation.
- Avoid harmful chemicals:
Lupus, in itself, makes your hair brittle and damaged, thereby leading to more hair fall. Using hair treatments, which include harsh chemicals, is not advisable. Avoid colour, heating and frequent brushing at least until your lupus is under control.
Medically reviewed by Rishabh Verma, RP