There are a lot of side effects that patients deal with when they have a flare-up of their IBD. One thing that is often overlooked when discussing the side effects or symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease is what it can do to the hair. Unfortunately hair thinning and loss is a very unpleasant side effect for many patients. While hair loss might not be the most medically significant problem it can still be a devastating one.
There are several reasons for the hair loss experienced in IBD patients. The first reason for this issue is due to malnutrition. Patients who have lost a significant amount of weight over a short period of time may be at a higher risk of experiencing hair loss or thinning of the hair. The mal-absorption of nutrients in IBD patients can also cause issues with hair loss even when the patient maintains a stable weight. Normally this kind of hair loss is only temporary and the hair grows back as nutritional status returns.
Preventing hair loss due to nutritional problems involves keeping tuned into your body. If you feel a flare coming on or know you aren’t eating well you need to contact your doctor. They may want you to work with a dietitian to monitor your nutritional status more closely and tailor a diet to your specific needs. This can help catch and treat any nutritional deficiencies that might be part of the problem.
Another reason for hair loss is due to the medications used to treat IBD. Immunosuppressive medications and some anti-inflammatory drugs, like steroids, can cause hair loss for some patients. When multiple medications are used it can intensify the effect. In most cases, the risk of discontinuing the medication is simply not optional - though sometimes a different medication might be substituted. Thankfully this type of hair loss usually stops when the patient’s flare-up is over and they are able to stop the medication.
Hairstyle (no kidding)
I know when I feel crummy my hair ends up in a ponytail way more than I would like to admit. If you do the same thing you need to know that keeping your hair up tightly can increase the loss of hair through traction alopecia. One of the ways to prevent this issue is to keep your hair in a loose braid instead. If your hair is already thinning due to this issue sometimes products like women’s or men’s Rogaine can help to trigger the hair follicles to grow hair again. Be sure to let your physician know if you are using any over-the-counter medication or supplement.
With a little prevention and a few of these tips you can limit the amount of hair loss experienced as a side effect of IBD. If you are still having issues after all of these areas have been explored your physican may want to do additional testing for things like thyroid disease, which can also cause hair loss.
Jennifer Rackley is a nutritionist and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and has done graduate work in public health and nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.