Is Rheumtoid Arthritis Causing My Hair Loss?
What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease, which means that the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues. In RA, the immune system focuses on tissues in the joints, causing them to be swollen, stiff, and painful.
There is no cure for RA: it’s a chronic illness that requires lifelong treatment. However, treatment can minimize joint damage and reduce symptoms, especially when the disease is diagnosed early and medications are started right away.
Complications of RA
The impact of RA can go beyond your joints. You may experience skin and eye problems and be at an increased risk for developing osteoporosis, infections, lung disease, heart conditions, anemia, and neuropathy. You can minimize these risks by controlling the disease with medications.
RA Can Cause Hair Loss
Hair loss is one of the possible complications of RA. This is because immune system attacks have an impact on skin, which is where hair follicles are located. However, hair loss as a symptom of the disease isn’t very common.
When it does occur, the loss isn’t severe, and usually leads to thinning of the hair rather than a shedding of full patches. Medications used to treat the disease are more likely to cause hair loss and thinning in someone with RA.
The most commonly used type of medication for RA is a disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD). DMARDs control RA by suppressing the immune system. Some DMARDs cause hair loss as a side effect.
Biologics are another class of drugs used to treat RA. They reduce inflammation caused by the immune system by blocking certain cells and the proteins they make. Biologics can, but don’t usually, cause hair to thin.
There are several different types of DMARDs used to treat RA, but the one used most often is methotrexate. Methotrexate suppresses the immune system by targeting fast-growing cells and stopping them in their tracks. Unfortunately, this includes hair follicles.
Methotrexate doesn’t cause hair thinning in everyone who takes it, but minor loss of hair is a possible side effect. Other DMARDs may also thin hair as a side effect.
Certain biologics, such as etanercept, can cause hair thinning as a side effect. The reason these medications affect the hair is unknown, but it might be related to messenger molecules called cytokines.
Hair loss caused by biologic RA medications isn’t severe. Hair growth typically will resume as normal once you stop taking the drug.
Other Autoimmune Disorders Cause Hair Loss
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system targets hair follicles. Hair loss from alopecia is more severe than that seen in RA patients. It usually occurs in patches, and in rarer cases, most of the hair on the head may be lost.
Lupus is another autoimmune disorder that can cause hair loss. The immune system attacks various parts of the body in people with lupus, causing a number of symptoms.
The skin is affected in most cases, which means that hair loss is a possible complication. Hair loss is sometimes an early symptom of the disorder, and often occurs before a diagnosis has been made.
Other Causes of Hair Loss
Autoimmune disorders aren’t the only causes of thinning hair. The most common cause of hair loss is a hereditary condition related to hormones, called male-pattern baldness in men, and female-pattern baldness in women.
Other possible causes of hair loss include:
- thyroid problems
- scalp infections
- lichen planus
- medications used for cancer
- heart problems
- pulling hair too tightly into certain hairstyles like ponytails
If you experience unexplained hair loss, see your doctor for a diagnosis.
Coping with Thinning Hair
Take these steps to minimize hair loss and cope with thinning hair, whether it’s caused by a complication of the disease or a side effect of a medication.
Avoid overworking your hair. Let it dry naturally and comb through it using a wide-toothed comb.
Hair products can give you more volume. Use volumizing spray at the roots of your hair and avoid heavy products like gel, mousse, or too much conditioner. You also can add hair extensions for a fuller crown.
Don’t stop taking your medication. If you’re concerned about side effects, talk to your doctor.
- Can lupus cause hair loss? (2012, December 4). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved December 18, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/lupus/AN01876
- Getting to the root of hair loss (2013). Arthritis Foundation. Retrieved December 18, 2013, from http://www.arthritistoday.org/arthritis-treatment/medications/side-effects/hair-loss-disease-arthritis-2.php
- Hair loss: Causes (2012, March 29). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved December 18, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hair-loss/DS00278/DSECTION=causes
- Turn thinning hair into lush locks. (2013). Arthritis Foundation. Retrieved December 18, 2013, from http://www.arthritistoday.org/what-you-can-do/everyday-solutions/do-it-easier/what-to-wear/christine-schwab/christine-schwab-thinning-hair.php
- What is alopecia areata? (2009, July). National Institutes of Health. Retrieved December 18, 2013, from http://www.niams.nih.gov/health_info/Alopecia_Areata/alopecia_areata_ff.asp