Hair loss is a dreaded side effect of many health conditions and certain life stages, and it does not discriminate between men and women. Both sexes can be affected by hair thinning and balding. We often relate hair loss to aging, but that is just one cause of hair loss. Indeed, numerous other factors can contribute to hair loss. What many people don’t know is that hair loss is often a sign of an autoimmune condition. Autoimmune diseases are hard to diagnose, but hair loss may very well be the symptom that triggers you to seek out help. Here is a look at the most common autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss, as well as a review of other conditions that may result in hair loss as well.
Introducing Alopecia Areata
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition where your immune system attacks the hair follicles on your head. Researchers have yet to discover why the immune system specifically targets certain types of its own cells, and currently, a cure for this specific autoimmune disorder is lacking.
It is estimated that 6.6 million Americans live with alopecia areata. The condition is characterized by excessive hair loss that results in bald patches distributed across the head and even the body. When left untreated, it can leave people completely bald. Once people go bald or have bald patches, it is extremely difficult to grow hair back. Even if your hair does grow back, there is no guarantee that it will not fall out again.
Men and women can be affected by alopecia areata. However, women are more likely to develop it. Indeed, women are much more likely to suffer from an autoimmune disease in general compared to men. The reason behind this gender difference is not well understood, but leading theories suspect hormones like estrogen may supercharge the immune system to the point where it attacks its own cells. Other theories for why autoimmune diseases are more likely to occur in women include environmental factors, genetic influences, and whole-organism factors.
Alopecia areata is often diagnosed in childhood as well. In fact, most people with this condition will start to notice thinning and balding before they reach age 30.
Treating Alopecia Areata
While there is no cure for alopecia areata, there are treatment options. One of the first things most dermatologists will recommend is a topical agent to support hair growth. Nanoxidil 5% is at the forefront of cutting-edge dermatological compounds for treating hair loss. It stimulates hair follicles and prolongs the growth phase of individual strands without unpleasant side effects associated with other hair growth agents. Where other topical agents can leave your hair oily and your scalp itching and burning, Nanoxidil treatments use a water-based formula that nourishes your scalp while it works to regrow your hair.
Your dermatologist may recommend other topical agents, including:
- Anthralin, a drug that stimulates hair growth by irritating the scalp
- Corticosteroid creams, lotions, and ointments like Clobetasol
Your doctor may also recommend steroid injections to be administered in areas where you are balding. This type of treatment requires recurrent visits every month to two months for more injections and does not guarantee you will not lose more hair even during treatment.
Some doctors may also recommend oral medications depending on the extent of your condition. These medications are often either steroids or immunosuppressants, which block the immune system’s response. Like most medications, side effects make these oral medications usually a short-term solution for a long-term problem.
Of course, you can always try natural remedies, including acupuncture, microneedling, supplements, and anti-inflammatory diets. As with many autoimmune disorders, it often takes a comprehensive approach to manage your condition.
Other Autoimmune Diseases That Cause Hair Loss
The reality is most autoimmune disorders will have hair loss as a side effect of the disease. And most people with autoimmune conditions have more than one autoimmune disease (called polyautoimmunity). Thus, treating hair loss can be more complex than just trying to combat one disease. Along with alopecia areata, a person may also suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, systemic erythematous lupus, type 1 diabetes, or Crohn’s disease.
The Emotions Behind Hair Loss
Nearly all of us are attached to the physical presence of our hair. How we wear our hair is often a sign of self-expression and is part of our identity. When we lose hair, it can wreck our self-confidence, even though more than half of all women and men will struggle with hair loss at some point in their lives.
At DS Laboratories, we make it our business to help people feel confident in their hair. If you are struggling with a tough-to-treat condition like alopecia areata, reach out to one of our product advisors to connect with solutions that will help you feel like you again.