Lupus (otherwise known as systemic lupus erythematosus, or SLE) is a condition causing inflammation throughout the body.
It affects the skin, joints, and various organs.
Lupus is fairly uncommon, affecting 28 in 100,000 people.
Sadly, lupus has no cure, though treatment can ease symptoms over time.
People affected by lupus may experience hair loss, which can be difficult to accept.
Fortunately, there are various options available to treat lupus-related hair loss.
In this post, we’ll explore the following topics:
- What is lupus?
- Why lupus causes hair loss
- What options are available if you’re affected by lupus-related hair loss?
What is lupus?
Lupus is an autoimmune disease, causing the body’s immune system to attack certain organs and tissues.
As a result, inflammation can affect the skin, blood cells, kidneys, joints, and major bodily organs.
Common symptoms of lupus include:
- Stiffness and joint pain
- Skin rashes (particularly on the cheeks and/or nose)
- Tiredness which doesn’t ease regardless of how much you rest
- Sensitivity to light
- Swollen glands
- Weight loss (without obvious lifestyle causes)
Lupus ranges in severity, from mild to severe.
People with mild cases are likely to experience skin and joint issues, as well as tiredness.
Moderate cases lead to inflammation of the kidneys, lungs, heart, or other areas of the body.
And in severe cases, inflammation can cause serious damage to the lungs, brain, heart, or kidneys — posing a risk of death.
Symptoms may worsen and ease from time to time, or remain the same consistently.
Treatments for lupus include ibuprofen or other anti-inflammatories, as well as steroid injections, creams, or tablets.
Hydroxychloroquine may be prescribed for skin and/or joint problems, and fatigue.
Why lupus causes hair loss
Not everyone affected by lupus experiences hair loss, but it can cause hair thinning or baldness in multiple ways:
- Inflammation of the skin in areas with hair follicles may lead hairs to fall out and stop producing hair
- The hair becomes fragile enough to break easily, contributing to the appearance of hair loss
- Lupus can cause lesions or discoid sores anywhere on the body, and if these damage hair follicles, permanent hair loss may occur
Hair loss may occur as a side effect of lupus medications (immunosuppressants, steroids), which suppress some of the body’s systems — including hair production.
Lupus can disrupt hair growth in different areas, leading the eyelashes, beard, eyebrows, and hair on the head to fall out.
Research shows that lupus can lead to hair loss affecting 55 – 100 per cent of the scalp.
The most common form of lupus-related hair loss is non-scarring alopecia, which tends to thin the hair temporarily.
What options are available if you’re affected by lupus-related hair loss?
Lupus-related hair loss can be reversible, except when discoid lesions are involved (as mentioned above).
As with many medical conditions causing hair loss, lupus must be controlled to promote healthy hair growth.
It may grow back if your lupus can be treated and kept stable.
Hair which is fragile because of lupus should be washed gently with baby shampoo, and styling tools (e.g. straighteners, curlers, etc.) should be avoided.
Prolonged stress can also exacerbate hair loss, so relaxation techniques can prove helpful if you face difficulties on a regular basis.
Hair transplants may be an option if you’re experiencing hair loss.
But restored hair may fall out if lupus continues to disrupt the growth cycle and follicles on the scalp.
It’s crucial to work with your GP to find the right treatment for you and help your condition stay under control.
The latest hair transplant technologies and techniques allow specialists to restore hair in a natural, seamless way.
System Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) most commonly causes non-scarring alopecia, which creates thinning hair. This primarily occurs at the front of the hairline, but hair loss may not always be permanent.
With lupus, hair loss may result from disk-shaped discoid lesions on the scalp (though they may form on the face too). These create permanent scars, which may appear scaly and red without causing discomfort.
For people living with lupus, hair loss is a possibility. The following steps may help make it easier to manage:
● Spend less time in the sun, as UV rays can cause lupus to flare up and trigger discoid lesions.
● Maintain a healthy diet.
● Switch medications if safe to do so.
● Try to get a healthy amount of rest whenever possible.
● Manage your stress levels as best you can.
When caused by lupus, hair loss may be reversed with treatment. However, some patients will form discoid (round) lesions across their scalp which can scar follicles and lead to permanent shedding.