4 Illnesses that Cause Hair Loss

by | May 3, 2021 | Hair Loss

Besides stress and your genetic makeup, there’s a host of reasons that can trigger excessive hair shedding. Illnesses can also cause hair loss. The reason we want to share this information with you is to help you understand that when dealing with this condition, there are several factors that come into play, and in some cases, it just might signal something more serious about your health.

In this blog, we will talk about 4 conditions that are also associated with hair loss. Read on and see how each affects your locks.


dr tyng tan blog lupus

Lupus is a long-term autoimmune disease that triggers a host of symptoms that may also affect the skin, resulting in hair loss.

Autoimmune diseases are conditions where the body’s natural defence mechanism is unable to differentiate your own cells from foreign ones. So, they end up mistakenly attacking normal cells.

Lupus comes in many forms, but it’s Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) that is the most common, and it affects your skin, joints, and internal organs, like your kidneys and heart. Since the disease affects many parts of the body, it can cause a lot of different symptoms. This makes Lupus difficult to diagnose because it shares many symptoms with other diseases.

Hair loss is common in SLE and is present in more than half of the patients at some point during the course of the disease. When the immune system attacks skin cells and hair follicles, it can often result in a specific type of scarring called a discoid lesion. When this occurs, it can plug the hair follicles, obstructing hair growth and causing the surrounding tissues to waste away. This type of hair loss is typically permanent, and individuals will need to seek treatment in order to restore their hair.

There are hair transplant techniques that can help patients restore their hair. Follicular unit transplantation (FUT) and follicular unit extraction (FUE) can be combined to help affected individuals regrow their own hair for a natural appearance that can conceal discoid lesions. Besides hair transplant, there are other surgical and non-surgical solutions for lupus-specific hair loss.

Thyroid Problems

dr tyng tan blog thyroid hair loss checklist

The thyroid gland produces thyroid hormones that are responsible for regulating and maintaining energy production and cellular metabolism—vital processes for the body to function. So, any fluctuations in the amount of thyroid hormones available in the body can result in several adverse effects.

Hair loss is one of the side effects of inadequate thyroid hormones. Like other cells in the body, the hair follicles depend on energy and metabolism to function properly. For your hair to grow, it needs properly metabolized protein and other nutrients. Without proper thyroid function, iron, zinc, and important vitamins that are essential for hair growth may be absent or inadequate.

Whether you have an overactive or underactive thyroid, it can potentially result in hair loss. Some forms of hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism occur abruptly and are diagnosed early, while others may have been there for months or years before a diagnosis is made.

It is during severe and prolonged cases that hair loss presents as a symptom. Significant shedding becomes apparent several months after the onset of the thyroid disease. It is characterised by diffuse hair loss and involves the entire scalp rather than discrete areas. The hair appears uniformly sparse.

Fortunately, hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism are treatable conditions. Medications are available to help rebalance your thyroid hormones. However, on rare occasions, antithyroid drugs can also cause diffuse hair loss. In these instances, it can be hard to tell if the hair loss is caused by the effects of the condition or the medications due to the hair’s long life cycle. But, it’s highly probable that the antithyroid drugs are not the cause and it is unusual to have to find an alternative treatment for hyperthyroidism.


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Eating Disorders

Excessive shedding of terminal scalp hairs (the longer, thicker, and darker hair that grows on the head) may follow Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia Nervosa. Besides stressing the body, it also diverts nutrients away from the cells that help grow healthy hair.

When a person is suffering from an eating disorder, their body becomes malnourished, inadvertently depleting protein stores. When this happens, the body has to make sure that it takes care of essential functions. Our hair, which is made up of a protein called keratin, is not as essential to our body’s functioning. So, hair growth stops so the body can focus on keeping that person alive.

When the body is subjected to prolonged states of malnourishment in relation to eating disorders, the Anagen phase (growth phase) of the hair cycle gets terminated prematurely. This reaction is due to starvation, gastric abnormalities or reduced vital organ performance.

Hair loss can be a distressing symptom for someone with an eating disorder. However, depending on that person’s genetic makeup, age, and other developmental factors, regular hair growth is likely to return to normal if nutritional stabilization can be maintained for six months or more.

If you or someone you know is struggling with eating disorders, the first step is to speak to a doctor about what is going on. Then, talk about treatment options that are suitable for you. The good news is that hair loss in this case is reversible. A hair transplant is not necessarily a solution in this instance. It takes lifestyle and diet change, which is always doable when you stand up and seek help.

Cancer and Treatment-Induced Hair Loss

Hair loss is one of the significant concerns for patients following a diagnosis of cancer. It’s not only because of vanity but for patients, it serves as concrete evidence of the painful journey they have to go through on top of the harsh blow to their self-image. Excessive hair shedding may not be caused by cancer per se but as a side effect of chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy treatment owes its effectiveness to a variety of powerful medications which are designed to quickly attack cancerous cells. Unfortunately, not only does the treatment bear down on insidious cancer cells, but the medications also end up compromising the roots of the hair. This can cause the hair to fall out very quickly, even in large clumps, or gradually over time (anagen effluvium).

dr tyng tan blog chemo therapy induced hair loss

Chemotherapy-induced hair loss is often reversible once the treatment is complete. So, if you have finished the entire course of chemotherapy, your hair should eventually grow back.


What Can You Do About This Type of Hair Loss?

Hair loss associated with certain illnesses can be reversed if the condition is addressed first. Hair restoration can take on many forms depending on how much damage a certain illness creates to your hair or hair follicles.

Waiting until the condition is healed can be enough for some like those undergoing chemotherapy, while others may have to take hair transplant surgery to correct hair loss, as is the case with lupus.

If you are experiencing unexplained hair loss, it’s important that you consult a GP or you can have it checked by Dr Tyng Tan today. The point is to get it checked as soon as possible so you can get the proper course of action before it worsens.

About Dr Tyng Tan

Dr. Tan Tyng Yuan, MBBS completed her graduate and medical education in the United Kingdom over a span of 10 years.

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