Hair loss and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

Hair loss among people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is more common than you might think. In a recently published study1 around a third of patients that took part reported a history of some kind of hair loss.

Despite its prevalence the causes of hair loss in IBD patients are complex and vary from person to person, as does the amount of hair that is lost.

Below is a summary of some of the reasons it is thought hair loss can happen in people with IBD. If you experience hair loss you should speak to your doctor as the reasons behind hair loss can be very individual and identifying the cause cannot always be possible.

Medication

Anecdotally people with IBD have reported hair loss when taking some medications to treat IBD. However, there have been no in depth studies carried out in this area.

Common side effects listed for both Mesalazine and Methotrexate include hair loss. However, in the study mentioned earlier in this article Mesalazine and anti-TNF medications were associated with lower odds of hair loss.

Alopecia areata

In alopecia areata hair is lost from some or all parts of the body. Like IBD, it is believed to be an autoimmune condition. It is common for people who suffer from one autoimmune condition to be more susceptible to others - around 25% of patients with autoimmune diseases have a tendency to develop additional autoimmune diseases. It could therefore be possible that some people with IBD also suffer from alopecia.

Stress - emotional and physical

If your body has been under intense emotional or physical stress (such as surgery) then you can experience hair loss known as telogen effluvium - a common type of alopecia involving widespread thinning of the hair.

Nutritional deficiencies

IBD can prevent the proper absorption of nutrients in the gut, resulting in nutritional deficiencies such as B12 and iron. These deficiencies can result in hair loss.

Symptom of IBD

In some cases hair loss can be a symptom of IBD which occurs during a flare.

Treatment

Various medications are available to try to treat hair loss, however they are not effective for all types of hair loss. It’s important to remember that in most cases, given time, the hair will start to regrow. You can read more about the options available for dealing with hair loss here.

Whatever the reasons losing your hair can be distressing and difficult to live with. Learn how one Crohn’s disease patient has learnt to live with her hair loss.

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References

  1. Rajesh Shah, Bincy Abraham, Jason Hou, and Joseph Sellin. Frequency and associated factors of hair loss among patients with inflammatory bowel disease. World J Gastroenterol. 2015 Jan 7; 21(1): 229–232. PMCID: PMC4284339.

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