(BlackNews.com) -- Lupus is a potentially serious autoimmune disease that can run in families. Ninety percent of lupus patients are women, and those of African, Asian or Native American heritage are most at risk.
For unknown reasons, the disease causes the body's immune system to attack healthy tissue, leading to a wide range of symptoms that can include extreme fatigue, joint and muscle pain, sensitivity to sunlight, skin rashes and hair loss among others. The disease can lead to problems with vital organs including the heart, kidneys and liver. There are two types of lupus - discoid lupus and systemic lupus - discoid usually affects the skin and systemic can affect internal organs as well as the skin. With proper medical care, lupus can frequently be controlled, but if left untreated or it is very sever, it can be debilitating and even fatal.
Hair loss and rashes are often the most obvious signs of lupus. There are four ways lupus can cause hair loss, and each is discussed below. Lupus sufferers may be extremely distressed about lupus-related hair loss, but the good news is that help is available.
* Discoid lupus is one of the ways lupus affects the skin. It mostly affects sun exposed areas such as the face, neck, head and arms. Flare ups can be triggered by excessive exposure to the sun. The rash caused by discoid lupus is destructive to tissue, and often leads to scarring, which on the scalp leads to hair loss. When discoid lupus causes hair loss, inflammation and scarring damage the hair follicles, which can progress to irreversible baldness.
* Systemic lupus goes through cycles of active flare ups and remission, and the flare ups are often signaled by hair loss. Lupus can leave sufferers feeling run down, often with a low grade fever and extreme fatigue. It can also be very stressful to live with lupus, especially when the patient is first coming to terms with the diagnosis and learning to manage the condition. Whenever the body is this ill and stressed, there is a risk of hair loss. An individual would usually notice diffuse shedding of their hair with progressive thinning if the illness is prolonged.
One might see distinctive short, broken, brittle hairs around the edges of the scalp that are the hallmark of lupus-related hair loss. When the disease is controlled or in remission, the hair will begin to grow back. Unlike discoid lupus, the scalp is not scarred permanently.
* Medications used to treat lupus can contribute to hair loss as well. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are used to treat lupus and can contribute to hair loss. Chemotherapy medications such as cyclophosphamide are also used occasionally, and they do cause hair loss. Hair loss caused by medications is normally temporary, which does not make it any nicer to live with, of course.
However, since medications to treat lupus frequently have to be taken for years, medication related hair loss can be a long term problem.
The good news is that whichever of these reasons cause hair loss in lupus patients, help is available. Diagnosing lupus early, including biopsies from the scalp when indicated plus appropriate treatment is the key to preventing permanent baldness due to lupus. The exact methods of treatment will depend on the specific findings - or causes - but can include oral medications, topical medications and localized injections to the areas of hair loss.
Prevention is better than any cure, of course, so it is vital that lupus patients follow their doctor's instructions about lifestyle changes such as avoiding sun, getting adequate rest, proper nutrition and complying with their treatment plan to best manage the disease. Lupus patients suffering hair loss should talk to their dermatologist and hair care professional about the best way to cope with the hair loss, groom & style the hair and promote healthy hair growth.
Dr. Seymour Weaver is on a mission to educate about Lupus and Hair Loss in African American Women. In his new book, "Dr. Weaver's Black Hair Loss Guide: How to Stop Thinning Hair and Avoid Permanent Baldness," he provides medical insight and guidance for a sensible approach to hair loss.