Rheumatoid arthritis, which is 2.5 times more common in women, is a chronic disease that affects more than 1 million people in the United States. Unfortunately, people with RA can also experience hair loss. Keep reading to uncover what RA is, and how it can contribute to hair loss. Plus, what you can do right now to support your body in growing thick, healthy hair.
What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is one of many existing autoimmune disorders, which means that the body's immune response mistakenly attacks healthy body tissue. RA is a chronic condition that attacks an important lining covering the joints called synovium. As a result, people who have RA will experience inflammation and damage in their joints that leads to pain, stiffness and restriction of normal movement.
Can RA Cause Hair Loss?
While it’s less common, rheumatoid arthritis can affect parts of the body beyond the joints. In rare cases, RA might attack the skin and hair follicles, which could lead to rheumatoid arthritis hair loss. However, even if hair loss becomes a rare complication of RA, it usually isn’t severe and typically presents as general thinning in specific areas of the scalp as opposed to patches of hair loss.
That said, there could be several other RA-related contributors to hair loss.
RA Medications and Hair Loss
“Hair loss is not necessarily a common complication directly associated with RA, and may actually be more commonly associated with medications used to treat RA rather than with RA itself,” said Dr. Erum Ilyas, board-certified dermatologist and founder of AmberNoon.
Among them, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, called DMARDs, are often the first line of defense used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. These arthritis medications, such as methotrexate, control RA by suppressing your immune system and targeting fast-growing cells. Hair loss is among the potential side effects of these medications because hair follicles produce fast-growing cells and can be an inadvertent target of DMARDs.
Biologics are another class of drugs used to reduce the inflammation caused by RA. Some, like anti-TNF therapies, can cause hair thinning or loss in a small number of patients. More research is needed to understand how and why these medications might impact hair.
While general thinning may be a result of RA medications, there is a chance that another specific form of hair loss may occur, particularly when your body is getting used to a new medication. “For those starting a new therapeutic, the potential for telogen effluvium exists,” said Dr. Ilyas. Telogen effluvium is a temporary but often significant form of hair loss typically caused by a shock or sudden stressor to the body, like a new medication.
The good news is that medication-related hair loss will cease, and hair growth typically returns to normal once your body adjusts to a new drug or if you stop taking the drug. Additionally, there are enough RA drugs available to provide options should a particular drug impact your hair.
Get the Full Picture: Telogen Effluvium Explained
RA and Alopecia Areata
“It is important to keep in mind that when a person has one autoimmune disease, he or she is more likely to develop yet another one,” said Dr. Sandra El Hajj, medical doctor and founder of the American Preventive Health Organization.
Research suggests that people who have RA are at a higher risk for developing another autoimmune condition called alopecia areata. “Commonly encountered with patients who have systemic RA, alopecia areata is a condition causing centralized hair loss,” said Dr. El Hajj.
Most often, AA causes patchy hair loss and resolves on its own, though chronic and severe cases can lead to more extensive and permanent hair loss.
Dig Deeper: Alopecia Areata Explained
RA and Lupus
Lupus is another autoimmune condition that can cause hair falling. Lupus also shares many of the same symptoms of RA, which can make each hard to diagnose. In very rare cases, a patient might have both rheumatoid arthritis and lupus in a condition referred to as rhupus syndrome.
Currently, researchers haven’t concluded if lupus is the cause of RA or if the two conditions coexist. Regardless, the concurrence of these two conditions can lead to hair loss.
Get the Full Story: Lupus and Hair Loss
RA and Iron Deficiency Anemia
Iron deficiency anemia is a common development for people who have RA, with up to 70% of people with RA developing anemia.
DMARDs might cause lesions in the gut that make it harder for your body to absorb iron, while immunosuppressant drugs can impact bone marrow, where red blood cells are created. Iron is an essential building block for red blood cells, which in turn transport nutrients and oxygen to your hair follicles. Finally, the disease itself can shorten the life span of red blood cells, which can also cause anemia.
RA and Thyroid Dysfunction
One final way rheumatoid arthritis might be connected to hair loss is through a concurrent thyroid disorder. Some RA patients develop thyroid dysfunctions, which are also caused by underlying autoimmune dysfunction. These autoimmune thyroid diseases seem to most often manifest in an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), but both overactive (hyperthyroidism) and underactive thyroid glands can lead to hair loss.
Managing Hair Loss From Rheumatoid Arthritis
Hair health comes from the inside and out—it’s a holistic effort! Here are a few tips for a holistic approach to hair health that can you help manage hair loss from RA, while you're also managing the disease itself.
Check Your Diet
How do you grow thick, beautiful and healthy hair? Feed your follicles all they need to thrive! Vitamins E, A, C and B-5, along with folic acid, biotin, zinc and iron are just a few of the vitamins and minerals essential for healthy hair. Eat foods that meet these nutritional needs and fight inflammation, like olive oil, seeds, nuts, beans and whole grains.
Then, take it a step further and supplement with VEGAMOUR’s carefully formulated GRO Biotin Gummies and GRO+ Advanced Gummies, which contain a plethora of vitamins and minerals to help your follicles thrive. All you have to do is pop one delicious, strawberry-flavored gummy per day!
Stress can directly impact rheumatoid arthritis, which makes stress management a very important tool in a holistic toolkit for managing the condition.
Stress also impacts our follicles and hair cycles in a number of different ways, so finding ways to take care of your body, mind and spirit in the face of stress becomes even more important.
Some common ways of managing stress include popular techniques like yoga and meditation, but even simply taking a walk outside, spending time with loved ones or having a good laugh can all help lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Focus On Hair Wellness
When facing increased hair shedding that might be connected to RA, it becomes important to give a little extra attention to the health and wellness of your scalp.
Avoid any undue stress on your follicles by avoiding excessive brushing and combing, tight hairstyles, heat styling or chemical treatments.
You can also infuse your hair care routine with products that have been carefully formulated to keep both your scalp healthy and your locks looking luxurious. On wash days, use GRO Revitalizing Shampoo & Conditioner to support your scalp’s microbiome with antioxidants and lightweight hydration, while leaving your hair soft and smooth.
And for a daily hair boost, try our GRO Hair Serum, which contains powerful phyto-actives, such as mung bean, circumin and red clover. Apply the serum directly to your scalp, morning or night, to reduce shedding and promote thicker, fuller hair in 90 days.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune condition that targets the joints, resulting in painful inflammation that can impact mobility. While it is rarely the direct cause of hair loss, medications and complications of the condition can result in hair thinning or loss. If you have RA and are experiencing hair loss, be sure to consult with your doctor so that you can better treat and minimize hair loss. And always consult with your doctor before adding new supplements or other products to your treatment regime.
Hair loss isn't fun. But if you tackle it with a treatment plan from your doctor and provide your hair and hair follicles with the TLC and nourishment they need, you and your hair will be much better for your efforts!
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