Crohn’s disease is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It causes chronic inflammation in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This inflammation can cause symptoms like pain, severe diarrhea, weight loss, and malnutrition.

People with severe Crohn’s disease often experience symptoms outside their GI tract, too, like inflammation in the joints and skin. Hair loss increasingly appears to be one of these symptoms.

In fact, a 2021 research review suggests a connection between IBD and alopecia, which is a type of hair loss.

This article will explore what experts know about the link between Crohn’s disease and hair loss, as well as discuss causes, treatment options, and more.

Hair loss in Crohn’s disease

Anecdotally, many people with Crohn’s disease have reported hair loss as a symptom. The 2021 research review mentioned above suggests that hair loss may be more common in people with IBD than in the general population.

In one small study from 2015, 33 percent of participants reported hair loss as a symptom of their IBD. However, researchers cannot prove whether all those cases of hair loss were actually related to IBD, so the actual percentage might be smaller than what was reported in the study.

Experts do not fully understand the association between hair loss and Crohn’s disease. So many factors can contribute to hair loss, which makes it difficult to know whether hair loss is due to Crohn’s disease or not. More research is needed to explore the connection further.

Here are some of the connections between hair loss and Crohn’s disease.

The previously mentioned 20201 research review suggests a possible link between alopecia areata and IBDs like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis.

Alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition. Autoimmune conditions happen when your immune system mistakenly attacks your own body. In alopecia areata, the immune system attacks hair follicles.

Your hair follicles are responsible for growing your hair. When they are damaged, the attached hair falls out. In alopecia areata, this typically leads to patchy, circular areas of hair loss.

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Researchers are still exploring the connections between alopecia areata and Crohn’s disease.

Experts have long theorized that Crohn’s disease may also be an autoimmune condition. However, instead of attacking the body’s own cells, your immune system attacks healthy bacteria in your GI tract.

People with autoimmune conditions like alopecia areata are at higher risk of developing other autoimmune conditions. This is particularly true for women, according to a 2019 review of studies. It’s important to note that the studies in this review didn’t report data on or include participants who were transgender, nonbinary, gender nonconforming, genderqueer, agender, or genderless, and more research is needed in these areas.

Telogen effluvium is a type of alopecia that causes excessive, rapid hair loss. Hair may come out by the fistful or cover your pillow when you wake up in the morning.

Telogen effluvium typically occurs after a shock to your body, like giving birth or having surgery. A flare of Chron’s disease symptoms can also fall into this category.

You might experience significant weight loss, anemia, or nutritional deficiencies. As you’re managing your Crohn’s symptoms and your flare subsides, though, hair should start growing back in its usual way.

While the prevalence of telogen effluvium in people with Crohn’s disease isn’t well understood yet, researchers have associated this type of hair loss with the condition, other forms of IBD, and autoimmune diseases in general.

In some instances, hair loss may be a side effect of one of the medications used to treat Crohn’s disease.

Methotrexate, a strong medication used to treat a variety of conditions, is the Crohn’s medication most often associated with hair loss, according to the Arthritis Foundation.

Methotrexate fights inflammation by interfering with cell growth. It can also interfere with the growth of hair follicles, leading to mild hair loss.

Since it causes inflammation in the intestinal tract, Crohn’s disease can impact your ability to absorb nutrients.

Even if you’re eating a balanced diet, you may not digest or absorb the nutrients your food contains. Diarrhea, a common symptom of Crohn’s disease, can also prevent the absorption of much-needed nutrients.

Poor nutrient absorption can lead to malnutrition and deficiencies in the nutrients your body needs for healthy hair growth. Malnutrition due to Crohn’s can also result in unplanned weight loss, another factor in hair loss.

Vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients play an important role in hair follicle development. According to 2015 research, common vitamin deficiencies in Crohn’s disease include:

  • vitamin D
  • zinc
  • vitamin B12
  • iron

Learn more about the best vitamins for healthy hair growth.

Remember to always consult a doctor or nutritionist, if one is available to you, before adding vitamins and supplements to your diet.

Managing Crohn’s disease may be challenging. Stress is a common side effect of coping with the daily toll of symptoms and managing them.

Stress is associated with numerous negative health effects and may play a role in hair loss.

Chronic stress can lead to high levels of cortisol in the body. Cortisol is often known as the stress hormone because of its role in stimulating your body’s fight-or-flight response. A 2021 study in mice found a connection between raised cortisol levels and hair loss.

If you have Crohn’s disease and patches of thinning hair or baldness, talk with your doctor. They can give you recommendations that work for you.

Crohn’s medication change

Your doctor may consider adjustments to your medication dosage and type, especially if you are experiencing other side effects.

Read more about the options for Crohn’s disease medications.

Hair loss medications

Depending on the root cause of your hair loss, oral or topical medications may be beneficial.

These include:

Learn more about hair loss treatments.

Dietary adjustments

Your doctor can order some lab work to check for vitamin and mineral deficiencies. This can be done with a simple blood test. If a vitamin deficiency is identified, your doctor may advise that you take a daily supplement.

You can also reduce nutritional deficits by avoiding trigger foods, especially during a flare. Everyone’s trigger foods are different. Some foods to avoid may include raw fruits and vegetables as well as dairy.

Check out our Crohn’s nutrition guide to help identify the best foods to eat.

Stress reduction

There’s no downside to stress reduction. Talking with a therapist one-on-one or finding a support group for people with Crohn’s are two strategies for reducing stress.

Other ways to relieve stress include:

Connect with others on Bezzy

Bezzy is Healthline’s community hub. It aims to foster connection among people living with chronic conditions. Visit our Bezzy IBD hub to learn more!

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Symptoms of Crohn’s disease can include:

  • constipation or diarrhea
  • abdominal pain and cramping
  • unplanned weight loss

Hair loss isn’t the only Crohn’s symptom that occurs outside the GI tract. Other potential symptoms and complications include:

Read more about Crohn’s disease symptoms and complications.

If you see hair in your comb or shower drain, try not to panic. Hair loss is typical and happens in cycles throughout your life. If, however, you’re losing much more hair than usual or you notice balding patches, let your doctor know.

Hair loss can be hereditary or associated with conditions other than Crohn’s disease. It’s important to get medical support to help find the hair loss treatments that will be most effective for you.

While some hair loss conditions are permanent, many are temporary and reversible. Plus, treatment options can help prevent hair loss and strengthen your hair. Generally, the sooner you address the hair loss, the better your outlook.

Although experts are still studying the possible links between hair loss and Crohn’s disease, anecdotal evidence suggests that some people with Crohn’s disease do experience hair loss as a symptom. This also appears to be true with other forms of IBD, especially during symptom flares.

Crohn’s is associated with an increased risk of developing other autoimmune conditions, including alopecia areata. Other symptoms and complications from Crohn’s that may contribute to hair loss include nutrient deficiencies, stress, and medication side effects.

Talk with your doctor if you experience any irregular changes to your hair or any worsening of your Crohn’s disease symptoms.