Lupus is a devastating and depressing disease. Sometimes labelled as the ‘disease with a million faces’, the symptoms of Lupus are so varied that diagnosis can be extremely difficult. There are some symptoms that are more common than others however, including joint pain, fatigue, cold fingers and toes (sometimes to the point where the skin turns blue) and, most prevalently, skin rashes. In addition to these, people suffering from Lupus will often experience a certain amount of hair loss, a condition which, while not painful, can have a detrimental psychological effect and further add to the patient’s misery.
Hair loss can be one of the first signs of Lupus and affects about 50% of sufferers. While Lupus and hair loss cannot be totally avoided, there are certain steps and precautions to take. We all lose a certain amount of hair on a daily basis – as much as 100 strands a day – but if the hair is coming out in clumps or is noticeably thinner and more brittle, the first step is to consult a doctor. Not only will this allow the doctor to check that the loss is not due to any other type of illness but, if Lupus is the cause, it can help with a speedier diagnosis. If Lupus is present, the doctor can then identify which type of Lupus it is and suggest the best course of action. While we know that Lupus is an autoimmune disease, knowing the actual type of Lupus can be very helpful in terms of dealing with any associated hair loss. There are two basic types of Lupus: Discoid Lupus and Systemic Lupus. Hair loss can accompany either one of these, but for different reasons.
Discoid Lupus – known as ‘scarring’ Lupus, this form of the disease will actually damage the hair follicles and in many cases cause permanent hair loss.
Systemic Lupus – while this type of Lupus can cause the hair to fall out, no damage is done to the follicles and therefore the hair can, and usually will, grow back once the disease is under control.
With either type of Lupus, the sufferer will often notice that the hair loss occurs mainly around the edge of the scalp (in a pattern sometimes called ‘Lupus Hair’) and will very likely be thinner and liable to break more easily. Lupus activity tends to come in waves so the time between ‘flare ups’ is perfect for ensuring the hair is kept as healthy and strong as possible. Treating the hair with the upmost care is vital, meaning no harsh chemical treatments, gentle brushing and avoiding the use of heated styling tools such as curling irons and straighteners. Dietary supplements can be beneficial too and many Lupus patients find that the substance Biotin, which can be taken orally or as part of a topical hair treatment formula, helps strengthen the hair, allowing it to grow longer with no breakage,
As with any disease, reaching out and connecting with other sufferers is essential. This can not only offer support and comfort but can also provide valuable insight into how other people deal with the illness and some of the more distressing effects.
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