Is Your Hair Loss Caused by an Autoimmune Disease?
Hair loss is caused by family history, hormonal changes, medicine, poor nutrition & medical conditions.
Autoimmune diseases are on the rise & one of those medical conditions that cause hair loss. These diseases can affect every part of your body producing a wide range of symptoms (including hair loss) so they are hard to diagnose. When your immune system fails to differentiate between a foreign invader and normal healthy cells, you end up with an autoimmune disease. Here are a few that come with hair loss.
Lupus is one of those autoimmune diseases that affects over 1 million Americans. It affects various systems and organs in the body creating a wide range of symptoms. These can include painful joints headaches, fatigue, abnormal blood clotting, painful joints and hair loss. Sometimes it’s difficult for a doctor to diagnose lupus because of the amount of symptoms that come with this disease. It doesn’t show up in everyone the same way and the symptoms YOU experience may not be a neon sign above your head that reads TEST FOR LUPUS. If you suspect you may have lupus, discuss it with your doctor. Tell him/her why you believe you need to be tested (in other words help him to medically come to your same conclusion). There are tests that he can run to see what is going on inside your body. If you have an unexplained cause of symptoms he can usually start with a few tests and if he us uncertain then send you to a rheumatologist. These tests might include:
Complete Blood Count (CBC):
This test measures your number of red blood cells, white cells, platelets, hemoglobin and hematocrit. People with lupus commonly have low white blood cell or platelet count.
Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR):
This checks to see how much iron is in each red blood cell.
This blood test determines how fast your red blood cells settled to the bottom of the tube. The faster the drop the more iron. The speed is an indicator. There isn’t a sedimentation rate chart that says if this is your rate then this is your disease. But this test in combination with others can show the presence of an inflammatory condition such as an infection, cancer, or an autoimmune disease like lupus.
Anti-nuclear antibody test (ANA):
A positive test for the presence of these anti-bodies in your system indicates a stimulated immune system. People with lupus CAN have a positive ANA test but you can have a positive ANA test and not have LUPUS (it could be another autoimmune disease)
When I was (finally) diagnosed with my second autoimmune disease, I tested positive for the presence of these antibodies in my system at my GP ( this with my symptoms made him think it could be lupus so he sent me to a rheumatologist. He did more testing and uncovered it was caused by the presence of another autoimmune disease not Lupus) . Hopefully that made sense and didn’t just confuse you.
Urine, Kidney and Liver Tests:
You may be asked to produce a sample of urine so that the doctors can measure the protein level and red blood cells within your urine. This would indicate whether (lupus or whatever ailment is) has affected your kidneys. Lupus can affect these organs..
This autoimmune disease occurs when the cells of the immune system start attacking the thyroid gland. This is one of the autoimmune diseases that I have. See my blog post on understanding your thyroid. Because the thyroid regulates so many of the body’s activities and hormones, an attack on this gland causes inflammation which interferes with its ability to function resulting in an under active thyroid.
This grueling disease progresses slowly. At first you have only a couple symptoms that you can easily write-off as remnants from a pregnancy or a cold. But then, you start getting additional symptoms such as hair loss, sensitivity to cold, swelling, a hoarse voice and unexplained weight gain. This is not one of those diseases you leave untreated. See my blog post on understanding your thyroid if you suspect this is you. Again, get your doctor to run a test.
One word of caution: Your doctor may choose to only do a TSH test at first. If that test came back abnormal, only then would then send you to an endocrinologist or do a complete thyroid profile. I would encourage you to do the total thyroid profile upfront if you have concrete evidence that this is your disease.
At 26 years of age (after my first child was born) My Dr. did a TSH on me. It came back “in normal range”. Yet, all my symptoms persisted. My hair was falling out, I was sensitive to cold, I broke out in hives, I was tired all the time, my skin was very dry, I had unexplained weight gain etc. The problem is I didn’t know enough to tell the doctors to run the complete thyroid profile back then.
When the TSH came back normal he was SURE my problem wasn’t my thyroid. He also looked at me with a full head of hair and told me he wouldn’t worry about the hair loss if he were me. He even asked me if it’s possible that I was using a different brush or just started noticing something that always existed. Grrr… I tried telling him I was never able to use conventional hair clips cause my hair was too think for all of them until now. He suggested I had enough hair. That was his answer!!!!
As for the unexplained weight gain. He said at 5’3” I didn’t need to weight 113 lbs. I had a baby 6 months earlier and I was still skinny. UGH!… He thought I could “stand to gain a couple pounds”. Needless to say I kept going back to his office with new or worsening symptoms. The fatigue he excused as a new mothers problem. So you see how we didn’t get to a solution for a while. He finally ran a complete profile and by then jokingly asked “how do you get up everyday? ”
Fast forward 28 years & now in a different state, I went to my GP complaining that I felt “off”. It felt as if my thyroid meds were not working anymore. He said OK he would will run a TSH. I asked him to Please run a complete thyroid profile, with my history it was easily warranted. He asked me to let HIM be the doctor. Now knowing better I waited for my TSH results and promptly found another doctor. I walked in (calm but steadfast in my own advocacy for good health…some call it “feisty”) and told him what I wanted his support to do & asked if he agreed. (I was secretly prepared to walk out) . He agreed and when the results came back he said “No wonder you feel like SH**&” . So the morale of the story, stand your ground. If you have experience, research and no results.. be the advocate your body needs and get what you want: results.
This is an auto immune disease that attacks hair follicles. At first (for most people) the symptom is simply the presence of a few thinning or bare spots….. but for many it becomes more severe and all over. If you are familiar with Kevin Bull, He is the American Ninja Warrior with Alopecia Areata. Our family loves the ANW! He made the awareness and “cool factor” of this disease go way up. Admittedly, it’s much easier for a guy then a girl to go bald. We women feel more vulnerable and less attractive without our locks.
TESTS: Biopsies of the affected skin area can show immune lymphocytes penetrating into the hair bulb of the follicles.
While alopecia can occur anywhere on the body the most common spots are on the scalp in the form of hair loss. If all the hair on the scalp is lost it’s a condition referred to as alopecia totalis. Less frequently it can occur on the entire body (like Kevin Bull) and this is called alopecia universalis.
Treatments for alopecia caused by autoimmune diseases
So here is the semi bad news…. Unfortunately there is currently no cure for alopecia caused by autoimmune diseases. Frankly, there are not a lot of cures for any autoimmune diseases. However, you can put the trigger at bay and experience remission with autoimmune diseases.
Autoimmune diseases have been found to be caused by:
- Stress to the body: physical or mental. This could include the birth of the baby or something more chronic like a job you hate
- Toxin exposure. See my post on toxins. Remove them from your environment. Look at the conditioners, the lotions, the cleaning products you use. Etc. Fire the exterminator and start using natural products everywhere.
- Infection: Some infections are hidden like a root canal that went bad.
Go to a functional medicine doctor – a good one. Have him help you explore your immune system triggers. I have gone to many functional medicine doctors over the years. I left if they offered solutions I told them I tried or if I knew more with my experience, education and research. I do have a favorite one now. While I am not paid to endorse him in anyway, I am happy to let you know who is. Getting to the root cause is the best way to relieve yourself of symptoms and put your autoimmune diseases in remission.
You don’t have to live like this! There is hope and help. Sign up to FOLLOW ME and get more updates on living well with autoimmune diseases.December 26, 2016
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