The Independent Pharmacy

How To Spot And Treat Hair Loss From Lupus

Scott McDougall
Scott McDougallMPharmDirector & Registered Manager

Reviewed on 6 Oct 2023

Dealing with lupus is tough enough without also losing your hair. But hair loss is a common issue many folks with this autoimmune disease face. When the immune system gets confused and attacks healthy tissue, it can damage hair follicles leading to thinning and shedding. Studies show over 50% of lupus patients deal with some level of hair loss.

The key is catching it early. Knowing what to look for and getting checked out at the first signs can make a big difference. Lupus hair loss usually happens gradually all over the head instead of in obvious bald patches like in male or female pattern baldness. Keep an eye out for more hairs on your brush, thinning at the scalp line or crown, and unusual breakage. Don’t ignore these red flags.

With the right treatment plan and some patience, hair loss related to lupus doesn’t have to be permanent. There are steps you can take to get it under control, stimulate regrowth, and keep your hair as healthy as possible.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know - from recognising early signs to getting properly diagnosed to exploring all the available treatment options. You got this!

Spotting Hair Loss From Lupus

What Does Lupus Hair Loss Look Like?

Hair loss is a common symptom of lupus and can have a few distinguishing features compared to other causes of hair loss.

Some symptoms that set lupus hair loss apart include:

  • Thinning all over the head, not just concentrated in certain areas
  • Hair that feels weak and breaks easily
  • Increased shedding, with noticeable clumps of hair falling out
  • Less overall hair volume, looking thinner from all angles
  • Gradually increasing areas of visible scalp

In contrast to male or female pattern baldness, the hair loss is more spread out and impacts the whole scalp. It tends to come on gradually but persistently over time. Being aware of these distinguishing signs can help identify hair loss related to lupus.

Early Signs and Symptoms

In some cases, the first indications of hair loss from lupus may be subtle changes in hair volume and shedding. Some early symptoms to pay attention to include:

  • Noticeably increased hair loss when brushing or washing
  • Difficulty styling hair in usual ways due to less volume
  • Small areas of the scalp becoming visible at the crown or hairline
  • Need to remove hair from shower drains more frequently
  • Hair no longer feels as thick when running hands through it

These initial signs tend to develop progressively over time as the immune system’s attacks on the hair follicles accumulate. It’s important not to ignore these early changes and wait for more dramatic hair loss. Consulting a doctor promptly at the first signs allows for earlier treatment and better chances of halting hair loss. Paying attention to one’s hair and being aware of differences from its usual condition enables you to identify lupus-related hair loss in its early stages.

Getting a Diagnosis for Lupus-Related Hair Loss

When to Talk to a Doctor

If you’re noticing your hair thinning or shedding more than usual, it’s understandable to feel concerned. We encourage you to approach this by scheduling an appointment with your doctor. The sooner hair loss is evaluated, the better the chances of getting it under control.

Start with your primary care physician. They can do an initial assessment and run blood tests to look for potential causes. If lupus or another autoimmune disorder seems likely, your doctor can then refer you to a specialist like a dermatologist or rheumatologist for further testing.

To help your doctor get to the bottom of what’s going on, try to be as detailed as possible about what you’ve noticed:

  • When did you first realise your hair was thinning or shedding excessively? Was it a gradual change or more sudden?
  • Are there certain areas of your scalp that seem more affected? Is the hair loss all over?
  • Have you noticed other symptoms along with the hair changes? Fatigue? Joint pain? Rashes? This info can provide helpful clues.
  • Be ready to share any family history of autoimmune diseases, medications you’re taking, or major stressors that occurred around the time your hair loss started.

Bottom line - don’t downplay changes in your hair. Your doctor is there to help figure out what’s causing this. The more info you can provide, the quicker you can get to the root of the problem and find solutions.

Understanding the Diagnosis Process

A lupus diagnosis usually begins with a physical exam of the scalp, looking for characteristic features of hair loss. The doctor may pull gently on sections of hair to check for signs of breakage. Blood tests may also be ordered to look for autoantibodies related to lupus.

If lupus is suspected, a skin biopsy may be performed. This involves taking a small sample of skin and hair follicles for analysis under a microscope. A biopsy can help confirm that immune system cells are involved in hair loss.

Some additional tests that may help diagnose hair loss from lupus include:

  • Pull test to measure the amount of shedding
  • Trichoscopy to examine hair follicles and structures
  • Scalp biopsy to evaluate inflammation and scarring

The doctor will consider test results along with a person’s symptoms and medical history. An accurate diagnosis of lupus-related hair loss provides the basis for appropriate treatment.

Will My Hair Grow Back?

Many people facing hair loss from lupus understandably worry about whether their hair will grow back. It’s a natural concern, and you’re not alone in feeling this way. Unfortunately, there’s no definitive yes or no answer. For many, with the right treatment, some level of regrowth is possible over time as inflammation is brought under control. But some permanent hair loss can occur, too, especially if someone goes untreated for long periods, allowing a substantial level of regrowth is possible over time damage to the follicles.

Every person’s situation is unique when it comes to potential hair regrowth. Factors like the extent of loss, how quickly treatment began, age, genetics, disease severity, and additional therapies can all impact outcomes. Milder cases often respond better to treatment, seeing considerable regrowth. But when scarring has developed, or loss is extensive, a full reversal becomes less likely.

The key is having realistic expectations when beginning treatment for lupus hair loss. While we understand the hope for complete hair restoration, in cases of severe damage, focusing on preventing further thinning can be a positive and realistic step forward. Ongoing treatments and hair care techniques can help support and stabilise the healthy follicles someone still has.

Living with a chronic condition like lupus involves a journey of adaptation and focusing on manageable steps. Remember, it’s about progress, not perfection, and you’re doing the best you can. And there are always solutions to explore - like medications, laser therapy, supplements, and hair transplantation. With the right support and plan, hair loss doesn’t have to control life with lupus. The condition can be managed.

Treatment Options for Lupus Hair Loss

Medications That Can Promote Regrowth

Medications such as finasteride (Propecia) and dutasteride (Avodart) help by stopping the effects of DHT, a hormone that can harm hair roots. Studies show these oral medications can stabilise hair loss and encourage regrowth when taken daily over several months. Both finasteride and dutasteride are generally well tolerated but discuss potential adverse effects with your doctor.

Products like Regaine (also available as Regaine for Women), which you apply directly to your scalp, increase blood flow and bring more nutrients and oxygen to your hair roots. Applying them consistently as directed is key to seeing results. These over-the-counter lotions can be used in conjunction with oral medications.

Advanced Treatments to Consider

For those with severe hair loss or cases where first-line medications are ineffective, doctors may recommend exploring advanced options like immunosuppressants, biologics, PRP injections, laser therapy, and hair transplants.

Immunosuppressants help by slowing down the immune system’s excessive activity in people with lupus. This helps reduce scalp inflammation and prevents further attacks on hair follicles.

New types of medicines, such as Benlysta, are showing good results in treating hair loss caused by lupus. More research is emerging on their efficacy and safety.

PRP (platelet-rich plasma) injections use a concentrated part of your blood and help to activate hair roots and promote new hair growth.

Low-level laser devices may help regrow hair by increasing cellular activity and blood flow in the follicles. However, more evidence is needed to confirm their effectiveness.

Hair transplantation involves relocating healthy follicles from fuller areas of the scalp to patchy spots. This can permanently restore hair in cases of scarring alopecia.

Lifestyle Measures to Improve Your Hair Health

While medications play a central role, lifestyle habits and self-care are also important when managing lupus hair loss:

  • Stress-reduction techniques like meditation, yoga, or counselling can minimise inflammation and provide emotional support.
  • Eating a nutritious anti-inflammatory diet rich in omega oils, antioxidants, and nutrients promotes scalp health. Consider supplements if deficiencies are found through bloodwork.
  • Scalp massages stimulate circulation, which brings oxygen and nutrients to the follicles to help them thrive.
  • Using silk pillowcases, limiting heat styling, and avoiding tight hairstyles reduce damage and hair breakage.
  • Check for underlying factors like thyroid disorder or nutritional deficiencies, which can exacerbate hair loss.
  • Some caffeine shampoos like Alpecin Caffeine Shampoo or Alpecin Double Effect can help make your hair stronger and may even help it grow by blocking DHT, a substance that can stop hair growth, in your scalp. Using one alongside other treatments can provide additional benefits.

A holistic approach combines treatments with healthy lifestyle choices for optimal control of lupus symptoms.

Keeping Your Hair Healthy in the Long Run

Preventing Further Hair Loss

Be vigilant about taking any medications or using topical treatments as directed. Consistency is so important to prevent lupus flare-ups and increased hair shedding. Don’t get discouraged if progress stalls from skipping doses. Maintain diligence with the regimen prescribed by your doctor.

At home, be gentle overall with hair care. Use a wide-tooth comb, avoid tight styles that pull on follicles, limit heat tools, and choose soft scrunchies. Eat plenty of iron and protein to nourish hair. Consider supplements if dietary improvements don’t help.

Monitor closely for increased thinning or shedding and call your doctor if concerning changes occur. Catching setbacks early allows adjusting treatment to get back on track.

Finding Support and Resources

Connect with others experiencing hair loss through in-person or online lupus groups. One-on-one counselling also provides an outlet for sharing tips and encouragement. Lupus can often feel isolating, but please remember, you are not alone in this. There’s a community and support system ready to walk this journey with you.

Leverage resources from lupus foundations and advocacy organisations. Stay current on emerging treatments, clinical trials, and coping strategies. Arm yourself with knowledge of the latest advancements.

Having the right support team makes all the difference. Reach out for information, community, and new treatment options to manage lupus-related hair loss over the long term.

What Should You Do Next?

If you notice abnormal changes in your hair - increased thinning, patchy spots or excessive shedding - it’s important not to ignore it. Make an appointment with your doctor right away to identify the cause. The sooner you can get answers, the better. Come prepared to provide details on other symptoms that could potentially indicate lupus, like rashes, joint pain and chest pain. Follow your doctor’s treatment recommendations closely, whether medications, supplements or lifestyle adjustments. Consistency is so critical.

This process is unique to each individual. Consult specialists like dermatologists and rheumatologists to get personalised guidance based on your particular symptoms and medical history. Don’t hesitate to ask questions and discuss all concerns related to systemic lupus erythematosus if this autoimmune disease is suspected. If recommended, look into participating in clinical trials for emerging biologic drugs - you can access innovative treatments and advance research.

At The Independent Pharmacy, we offer customised hair loss treatment plans for those with all types of lupus. Start by filling out our online self-assessment. Our experts will evaluate your health background, symptoms and goals to determine which products from our wide range could help. We provide minoxidil solutions, oral medications, specialised shampoos and more. Let our specialists guide you toward effective solutions for maintaining healthy hair and managing your lupus.

To learn more, visit our website or give us a call. You don’t have to go through this alone - support and resources can make a big difference.

FAQs

Is hair colour bad for lupus?

Hair dye and colouring treatments are generally safe for people with lupus as long as some precautions are taken. Avoid permanent dyes with harsh chemicals like ammonia and bleach. Mild semi-permanent or vegetable-based dyes are less likely to irritate the scalp. Strand tests before full colouring can identify potential allergies. Discuss with your doctor, but most colours can be used sparingly.

How do I know if I have autoimmune hair loss?

Autoimmune hair loss, like in lupus, often has distinctive features. It tends to cause diffuse hair loss all over the scalp, increased shedding, brittle hairs prone to breaking, and sometimes patchy circular areas of hair loss. Other autoimmune symptoms like rashes, joint pain and fatigue may be present. Doctors can run blood tests to help confirm autoimmune causes through the detection of related antibodies.

Is lupus inherited from the mother or father?

Lupus is not directly inherited, but having a family member with an autoimmune disorder does increase risk. Both maternal and paternal family histories are relevant. The exact causes are a combination of genetic and environmental factors. While lupus cannot be prevented if you have a predisposition, steps can be taken to minimise triggering factors.

What are the top 5 signs of lupus?

The most common symptoms of lupus include:

  1. Fatigue and weakness
  2. Pain or swelling in joints
  3. Fever over 37°C
  4. Red rashes on the face, neck or arms
  5. Chest pain with deep breathing

Other frequent signs are hair loss, sensitivity to sunlight, headaches, and fingers turning white or blue in cold temperatures. Diagnosis involves a combination of clinical evaluation and blood tests.

Sources:

Lupus - NHS (www.nhs.uk)

Coping with Hair Loss - LUPUS UK

What Laboratory Tests Are Done in Lupus? - LUPUS UK

Living With Lupus: Health Information Basics for You and Your Family | NIAMS (nih.gov)

Eating a balanced diet - NHS (www.nhs.uk)

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