Like most people, you’ve most likely heard of the autoimmune disorder lupus. However, chances are you probably don’t know exactly what it is or what it entails. As a result, if you were recently diagnosed with lupus, you might have a few pressing questions about the condition. What causes lupus? What are the symptoms of lupus? Can lupus cause hair loss? What are the different treatment options? It’s important to educate yourself on the various symptoms of lupus, including hair loss, because early detection is the key to stabilizing and controlling the condition.
What Is Lupus?
Lupus is one of those mysterious medical conditions that plagues many people but completely baffles physicians and medical professionals across the board because it’s extremely difficult to diagnose and there aren’t any specific tests that can detect lupus.
While symptoms of the disease are well-studied and documented, no one knows the exact cause of it. Some scientists believe it could be hereditary while others believe it could be rooted in environmental or situational circumstances, or even a combination of both. One thing we know for sure is that when it comes to autoimmune diseases, the immune system can either be underactive or overactive. Lupus falls under the second category.
An underactive immune system fails to attack harmful foreign tissues in the body. An overactive immune system can’t distinguish between healthy and harmful tissues, so it manufactures white blood cells with the intent of attacking and destroying all tissues within the body, even healthy ones. White blood cells produce antibodies that are each tasked with attacking specific types of antigens (foreign cells in the body that are destructive to normal and healthy immune functions). Lupus prevents the immune system from being able to differentiate between antibodies and antigens, so it sets out to destroy all of them.
Who Is Most Likely to Be Affected by Lupus?
Millions of people worldwide suffer from lupus, and though the disease can affect both men and women of varying ages, the playing field is far from level. Women of childbearing age (between about 15 and 45)—most notably women of African, Asian, Hispanic, and Native American descent—are most likely to develop lupus in their lifetimes. However, people with a family history involving autoimmune disorders are also highly susceptible to developing the condition.
Symptoms of Lupus
The following are all telltale symptoms of lupus:
- Joint inflammation, damage, and severe chronic pain
- Skin damage, particularly severe rashes and scarring on the face and neck
- Kidney damage
- Swelling around the eyes and on the legs
- Pulmonary and cardiovascular issues
- Harsh and unbearable photosensitivity
- Intense chest pain when breathing normally
- Purple or abnormally pale extremities (especially fingers and toes)
- Sores surrounding the nose and mouth
- Mild to severe hair loss and damage to hair follicles
How Can Lupus Cause Hair Loss?
Lupus can both directly and indirectly cause hair loss. As previously mentioned, lupus causes the immune system to attack both harmful and healthy cells and tissue mass in the body. This includes healthy hair follicles. The antibodies produced by white blood cells attack hair follicles until they become weak, brittle, and completely incapable of producing new hair.
Some medications used to treat lupus, such as prednisone and immune system suppressants, can drastically damage the texture of your hair, resulting in breakage and a raggedy appearance known as “lupus hair.” On a positive note, if the damage to your hair was caused by your medications, then your hair will naturally repair itself once you have taken control of your condition and ceased medical treatment.
Types of Lupus
There are five different types of lupus:
- Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE): This is the most common type of lupus that’s referred to, and it can affect multiple organs, tissues, and cells in the body.
- Discoid Lupus Erythematosus: This is largely typified by mild to severe scaly skin rashes that manifest on the scalp, neck, and face along with severe photosensitivity.
- Subacute Cutaneous Lupus Erythematosus: People who suffer from this condition are usually hypersensitive to sunlight to the point that they develop lesions on the parts of their skin with the most sun exposure. These lesions typically heal themselves without any permanent scarring.
- Drug-Induced Lupus: This form of lupus is usually a side effect of taking certain medications, such as certain types of antibiotics used to treat tuberculosis, anticonvulsants to prevent seizures, and some steroids. These drugs are known to cause lupus flares; the side effects are only temporary and should cease shortly after stopping the medical treatment.
- Neonatal Lupus: This is an extremely rare form of lupus that occurs in newborn babies whose mothers are already affected by lupus.
Ways to Remedy Your Lupus-Induced Hair Loss
People who are diagnosed with lupus, particularly SLE, can experience hair loss to varying degrees depending on the severity of their condition. Some people might notice their hair is thinning out gradually over time while others might have to endure losing their hair in large chunks. Either way, the experience of losing your hair so drastically can be extremely devastating. Unlike normal hereditary male- or female-pattern hair loss, there’s no specific pattern that’s related to lupus. Hair loss is merely one of many possible side effects of the condition, but the way in which your hair falls out largely depends upon the hair loss patterns you inherit from your parents or blood relatives.
Here are a few effective solutions you can implement to try to diminish and remedy the appearance of your hair loss:
- Cut your hair short or in layers to give it a thicker appearance
- Add hair extensions or wear a custom or pre-made wig
- Wear decorative head wraps, scarves, or bandanas
- Get cosmetic or hair transplant surgery
The first three suggestions are all simple, temporary solutions you can try at home. However, you should only consider cosmetic or hair transplant surgery as an absolute last resort once you have fully stabilized and gained control of your condition with the help of various medical treatments and examinations. Even though there aren’t any known treatments or methods of preventing lupus-related hair loss, there are certain methods you can take to correct the issue and keep your options open.
The Canadian Institute of Hair and Scalp Specialists has over 30 years of extensive experience in helping patients achieve their cosmetic goals through various hair loss treatments based on different health conditions, including lupus. We are one of the top hair rejuvenation clinics the country and we take great pride in helping our clients regain their confidence. For a complimentary consultation, please call us at (905) 272-0190 or toll-free at 1-800-563-3836.