Vegamour / Lauren Wilson
Lupus, also known as systemic lupus erythematosus or SLE, is a complicated autoimmune disease that can have a wide range of effects on a person’s health, including thinning hair and hair loss.
While hair loss might not be the most severe of symptoms associated with lupus, it certainly adds a lot to the stress and challenge of managing this condition.
Read on to understand the connection between lupus and hair loss, how it’s treated and how you can support healthy hair regrowth.
What Is Lupus?
Lupus is a complex disease that occurs when your immune system mistakenly identifies healthy tissue and organs as threats. When the immune system fights back against a perceived threat, it also creates inflammation, which means lupus often causes pain and swelling that can affect the joints, skin, kidneys, brain, heart and lungs, among other bodily systems.
Anyone can develop lupus, but it’s most common in women. In fact, according to the Lupus Foundation of America, about 1.5 million Americans have lupus, and 9 out of 10 of lupus patients are women.
On top of that, evidence shows that certain groups are at higher risk for developing lupus, including:
- Women ages 15 to 44
- Certain racial or ethnic groups — including people who are African American, Asian American, Hispanic/Latino, Native American or Pacific Islander.
- People who have a family member with lupus or another autoimmune disease like thyroid disease, rheumatoid arthritis or hay fever, for example.
While systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is the most common form of lupus, and it’s most often the type people refer to, three other forms of lupus exist:
- Cutaneous lupus erythematosus: A form of lupus that develops in two-thirds of people who have lupus, affecting the skin
- Drug-induced lupus: A lupus-like disease caused by specific drugs, like some blood pressure medications, anti-seizure medications and antibiotics
- Neonatal lupus: A rare condition that affects infants of women who have lupus
What Causes Lupus?
Unfortunately, autoimmune diseases aren’t well understood, and the exact causes of lupus are unknown. What is known is that autoimmune diseases like lupus run in families and people who have one autoimmune disease are at a higher risk for developing others.
While the exact causes aren’t known, experts do think that lupus might be related to hormonal responses to estrogen in the body, and it can develop as a response to certain environmental triggers like toxins, certain medications or infections and sunlight.
As a result, doctors believe that lupus is caused by a complex interplay of genes, hormones, and environmental factors.
Can Lupus Cause Hair Loss?
Yes. While not everyone with lupus experiences hair loss, because lupus has a wide variety of impacts on the body, it can cause hair loss in a variety of ways.
People living with lupus might notice gradual thinning or breakage of the hair along their hairline, or they might notice thinning of the hair all over their heads. Other more serious bouts of inflammation caused by the disease might cause scarring that leads to hair loss.
Hair loss caused by lupus can be temporary or permanent, depending on the underlying cause and its severity.
The Connection Between Hair Loss and Lupus
Hair loss is not uncommon in people with lupus. Over half of lupus patients experience hair loss at one point or another, although it most often happens in the early stages of the disease and can be one of the early warning signs.
There are different ways that lupus can induce or cause hair loss, though they can all be grouped into two main categories: scarring and non-scarring. Non-scarring forms of hair loss can be reversible and often clear up once the lupus is being treated and managed effectively. With scarring forms of hair loss, hair follicles might be irreversibly damaged, which leads to permanent hair loss.
When hair loss is caused by general systemic lupus, it’s typically due to body-wide inflammation that interferes with the normal functioning of hair follicles. This is a non-scarring alopecia and tends to resolve itself when treatment helps get disease activity under control and into remission.
“Diffuse hair loss that’s non-scarring: this is the most common type of hair loss linked to lupus,” explained Dr. Maryann Mikhail, a board-certified dermatologist with Waverly DermSpa. It could lead to a general thinning of hair all over the scalp, but it often leads to the thinning and weakening of hair at the front of the head. Called “lupus hair,” it’s characterized by fragile hair that breaks off easily, leaving short and ragged hair around the hairline.