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Autoimmune diseases and hair loss

The role of the immune system is one of protection. In circumstances where a toxin or foreign invader is present, the immune system launches an inflammatory response which is designed to eliminate the foreign article. In the instance of an autoimmune disease and hair loss, the immune system fails by mistaking normal healthy cells as foreign invaders. There are approximately 100 known autoimmune diseases. Affecting nearly every part of the body, the symptoms experienced by patients suffering with autoimmune disease vary and many include hair loss. The body needs to be in a healthy state to grow hair. It requires energy. When the body is in an unhealthy state where it is fighting disease, such as in cases of autoimmune disease, it requires a lot more energy. In these cases the body will signal for resources elsewhere in the body. Since hair growth is not required for survival, the energy that once powered this activity gets shifted to the frontline where it can be more useful fighting off illness. The result of this is hair loss for women and men alike.

What auto immune diseases cause hair loss?

There are some chronic illnesses such as in alopecia areata, that are caused by a confused and over-active immune system. The immune system plays a role in protecting the body from foreign organisms such as bacteria, viruses and dead or dying cells. Sometimes, the immune system gets confused and mistakenly sees its cells as foreign. Attacking its cells, this then results in rashes or hair loss.

Alopecia Areata
  • Sudden, Patchy Hair Loss
  • Type 1 Alopecia Areata results in less than 50% hair loss
  • Type 2 Alopecia Areata results in more than 50% hair loss
  •  1 in 1000 people may suffer from this at some time in their life
  • In Alopecia Areata, the body’s immune response has been signalled into perceiving the hair follicles as an invader or foreign object, thereby rejecting them from the system. This hair loss may be caused by medication, arthritis, anaemia or thyroid imbalances. In women this hair loss may be caused by pregnancy, child birth or through the use of birth control pills.
  • Alopecia Areata is often a hair loss condition that is caused by a hormonal imbalance within body, which if rectified will enable the patient to achieve full hair regrowth
  • Blood tests are required to identify these hormonal imbalances
  • Hair loss caused by Alopecia Areata may become recurrent whereby the patient loses eyebrows and lashes (Eyebrow Alopecia). Hair by Science features an eyebrow regrowth pen that enables those experiencing the loss of eyebrow hair to regrow effectively.
Alopecia Totalis
  • Alopecia Totalis is known as an autoimmune disease
  • Total loss of hair but this loss only occurs on the scalp
  • Two types of Alopecia Totalis – Sudden with Complete Loss or Slower with Patchy Loss that increases to complete hair loss on the scalp.
  • Typically seen in children or young adults under 40
  • It has been described as a genetic autoimmune condition which has an unidentified trigger
Alopecia Universalis
  • Alopecia Universalis is the advanced form of these hair loss conditions resulting in a total loss of body hair.
  • Alopecia Universalis is inherited as an autosomal recessive trait.
  • Individuals with this rare form of alopecia areata carry the gene.
  • Lupus is an autoimmune disease caused by genetics.
  • Those born with Lupus will typically experience symptoms due to environmental triggers like sun exposure, or hormonal triggers such as that which occurs in pregnancy.
  • Common symptoms of Lupus include fatigue, anemia, pain in the joints, headache and hair loss.
Hashimoto’s Disease
  • Hashimoto’s disease is also referred to as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis.
  • What happens in Hashimoto’s disease is the cells of the immune system begin to attack the thyroid gland and cause inflammation to occur in the gland.
  • This inflammatory response results in developing an underactive thyroid.
  • Common symptoms of Hashimoto’s disease include fatigue and muscle aches, unexplained weight loss and hair loss.
Grave's Disease
  • Graves’ disease is another autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid.
  • The thyroid gland is responsible for producing the T3 and T4 hormones which regulate how the body will use energy.
  • These hormones are controlled by the pituitary gland.
  • The pituitary gland produces (TSH – Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) which triggers the thyroid to make thyroid hormone.
  • When someone has Graves’ disease, the immune system produces antibodies that impersonate Thyroid Stimulating Hormone.
  • This mistaken identity causes the thyroid gland to produce an excess of thyroid hormone.
  • This results in an overactive thyroid or “hyperthyroidism”.
  • Hyperthyroidism causes the pace of every function of the body to quicken including ones heart rate and determines how quickly the body uses up energy.
  • Common symptoms of Graves Disease incude an inability to sleep, irritability, tremors, weight loss, fatigue and hair loss.