Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a type of systemic autoimmune disease characterized by the body’s immune system mistakenly attacking the joints. This leads to joint pain, inflammation and reduced joint mobility. However, because RA is a systemic disease, it does not only affect the joints. If left untreated, it can also affect other systems in the body such as the tendons, the vascular system and other internal organs. It can also leave lasting effects on your skin, and because that is where the hair follicles are located, it can also impact your hair.
The link between rheumatoid arthritis and hair loss
Hair loss is a relatively rare complication of RA. When it does happen, it usually isn’t severe enough to be a cause for alarm. It can cause your hair to thin out in places, rather than literally falling out in patches. However, if you are already under the effects of one systemic autoimmune disease, it could put you at risk of developing others. An example of this would be alopecia areata, which can cause loss of hair on the scalp or even all over the body.
Certain medications for RA also have the potential for causing hair loss as a side effect. The most common types prescribed by health practitioners to treat RA are disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs). They manage RA by suppressing your immune system, which, in turn, reduces chronic inflammation. There are also several types of DMARDs, the most common of which is methotrexate.
Initially used as an anti-cancer drug, methotrexate works by stopping the growth of skin cells in order to stop the formation of scales. Because of the way it works, however, the drug can also stop the growth of cells that support hair follicles. This causes the hair follicles to weaken, making it easier for hair to come loose. The drug also reduces the body’s levels of the B vitamin folate, which promotes healthy hair. Despite this, hair loss only happens to about one to three percent of people taking methotrexate.
Another DMARD prescribed by health practitioners is leflunomide, which is taken in combination either with or instead of methotrexate. According to the Arthritis Foundation, about 10 percent of users experience hair loss.
Preventing hair loss
Without outside influence, each strand of hair on your head has a lifespan of about two to five years. However, there are certain circumstances and lifestyle factors that can affect your hairfall rate. Whether your hair loss is caused by a chronic or even short-term health condition, there are home remedies you can adopt to protect your hair and make them less likely to fall out.
- Essential oils. These oils are made up of extracts of powerful botanical ingredients. You can mix them with carrier oils like jojoba and almond oil to create a treatment to stimulate hair growth. Some types of essential oils can even make your hair grow stronger.
- Diet. What you eat can make a big difference in maintaining the health of your hair. Eating antioxidant-rich foods can help fight off signs of oxidative stress, which could damage hair follicles. Examples of these foods are legumes, blueberries, strawberries and kale. You can also start cutting off food like sugar, preservatives and alcohol because they can all contribute to oxidative stress. (Related: Treat your rheumatoid arthritis with antioxidants and fish oil.)
- Quit smoking. Cigarette smoking was found to prematurely age your hair cells, making your hair follicles brittle and easy to damage.
- Scalp massage. Getting yourself a good scalp massage can help promote hair growth by improving blood circulation in the area.
Health.news has everything you need to know about rheumatoid arthritis and ways on how to deal with its symptoms.