Hair Loss and Crohn’s Disease?

Crohn’s may be well-known for its impacts on the digestive system; however, thirty percent of patients also report some degree of hair thinning or hair loss.

Crohn’s disease is an autoimmune disease that’s characterized by chronic inflammation of the digestive tract which causes bloating, belly pain, diarrhea and constipation. But Crohn’s effects aren’t isolated to your digestive system. It can wreak havoc throughout your body. Symptoms that show up outside of your digestive tract are called extra-intestinal manifestations (EIMs). Hair loss is one such EIM.

Crohn’s may lead to hair loss through several mechanisms, listed below.

1. Malnutrition. Crohn’s disease prevents your body from absorbing enough nutrients from the food you eat, which leads to malnutrition. Hair grown from malnourished hair follicles tends to be brittle, thin and susceptible to breakage. To make matters worse, when your follicles are malnourished, they can stop producing new strands, causing significant, overall thinning.

2. Alopecia Areata. If you have an autoimmune disease like Crohn’s, you’re more likely to develop another autoimmune condition. In fact, about 25% of sufferers have multiple immune disorders. Evidence shows a link between Crohn’s and the autoimmune disorder known as Alopecia Areata, which causes sudden hair loss when your immune system attacks your hair follicles leading to coinsized patches of hair falling out. The hairs on the border of these patches are usually short and resemble exclamation marks, a tell-tale sign of the condition. In rare cases, Alopecia Areata may progress into Alopecia Totalis, or total hair loss.

3. Medications. There is some evidence that some Crohn’s medications may cause hair loss; however, the claims remain controversial. Hair can take weeks or even months to react to stress or illness, so it’s often difficult to determine whether your hair loss is from the medication or from the disease itself. If you suspect your treatments are causing your hair loss, do not discontinue taking them! Consult your doctor before making any changes to your treatment plan.

About Brandon Ross MD