May 18th, 2017 Written by a Staff Member of Hair Loss in Women
Lupus (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus) affects around 1.5 million people in the U.S. It’s more common in women (especially in African-Americans and Asians), and often affects women during their childbearing years.
Symptoms vary from person to person, and may appear and disappear, but almost always include joint pain, which can develop into arthritis. Other symptoms include unexplained fevers, extreme fatigue, rashes, fingers and toes turning blue when they’re cold, as well as hair loss.
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease where the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy parts of the body. Lupus causes inflammation throughout your body, and it often attacks your skin and hair follicles. Around half of the sufferers of lupus deal with rashes and hair loss, often on the face and scalp. When hair loss occurs, it usually happens at the beginning of the disease.
If you’re dealing with skin lupus (also known as cutaneous lupus), it can be either in the form of chronic discoid lupus or subacute cutaneous lupus. A discoid rash is a thick, red, scaly rash that can cause permanent hair loss. If it’s caught early enough, before any scarring is present, you can regrow your hair.
Hair loss from lupus can occur gradually (losing more than average of 100 or so strands per day), or in clumps. Hair can become very brittle and thin, especially around the edges of the scalp, breaking easily, which is sometimes referred to as “lupus hair.” Hair may also come out very easily when you lightly pull on it.
Medications For Lupus
There’s no cure for lupus, but early diagnosis and treatment can help manage the symptoms and reduce the chance of permanent damage to tissues and organs.
For mild cases of lupus, medicines may include over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medicines. The most common medications used to treat lupus are corticosteroids (like Prednisone), which is an anti-inflammatory, or immunosuppressants, which suppress the immune system. These drugs can cause hair loss, though it’s not recommended to stop taking them until the lupus is under control. For severe cases of lupus, stronger prescription drugs are needed to prevent damage to the lungs, kidneys, and heart.
If one of the drugs you’re taking is causing your hair loss, the good news is that once you stop taking the drug, then your hair can regrow. But it may take 6 months or more to grow back.
If you have lupus, talk to your doctor about regrowing your hair. They can determine if your hair loss if from lupus, from the drugs you’re taking to treat lupus, or if there may be some other cause. Don’t take any drugs for regrowing your hair (such as minoxidil) without talking to your doctor first.
Managing Your Hair Loss From Lupus
There are several things you can do to prevent flares, as well as make the situation with your hair a little better. You can talk to your hair stylist about modifying your hairstyle to make your hair look thicker and fuller. If your hair loss is severe, you can look into hair extensions, wigs, and/or hats.
In the meantime, you can prevent lupus flares by keeping your stress low.
You’ll also want to avoid exposure to the sun- many lupus sufferers are photosensitive, which can lead to flares. Wearing a hat to prevent sun exposure, as well as covering as much of your skin as possible, will be helpful. Even on cloudy days, you’re getting exposure to ultraviolet rays (this may explain some of the flares that you may have had).
And remember to contact your doctor if you see any scaly rashes on your face or scalp. These can cause permanent hair loss if not deal with early.
Living With Lupus
Lupus can be very difficult to deal with, especially if you’re experiencing hair loss. Living with lupus and women’s hair loss is a challenge. Sufferers often avoid going into public and social situations, which causes a feeling of isolation, and often depression. Teenagers and patients in their twenties sometimes resort to self-harm (cutting their arms and legs).
Hair loss without lupus is extremely stressful, and many women equate it with the loss of a limb. So losing hair in addition to having the disease can be much worse.
This is why it’s extremely important to have a support network which can include:
- friends and family who support you
- connecting with other sufferers of lupus
Molly’s Fund is a great place to start.
There is currently no cure for lupus, but you can manage the side effects of the disease. And make sure to take care of yourself emotionally and mentally- don’t do it alone.
Is lupus affecting your life or someone you love? Please share your story below in the comment section.