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Can anemia cause hair loss?

Can anemia cause hair loss?

Navin Khosla NowPatientGreen tick
Created on 7 Jul 2024
Updated on 16 Jul 2024

Hair loss can be a distressing experience, leaving individuals feeling self-conscious and concerned about their appearance. While numerous factors can contribute to this common condition, one reason, often overlooked, is anaemia, a deficiency in the body’s red blood cell count or hemoglobin levels. This article looks into the relationship between anaemia and hair loss.

Understanding anaemia and its impact on hair

Anaemia is a medical condition characterised by a reduction in the number of red blood cells or the amount of hemoglobin, the iron-rich protein responsible for carrying oxygen throughout the body. This oxygen-carrying deficiency can have far-reaching consequences, including impacting the health and growth of hair follicles. One of the symptoms of iron deficiency is hair loss.

The role of iron in hair growth

Iron is a crucial mineral for the body, playing a vital role in the production of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin, in turn, is essential for delivering oxygen to the body’s cells, including those responsible for hair growth. When a person has low iron levels, the body’s ability to produce hemoglobin is disrupted, leading to a reduction in the amount of oxygen available to the hair follicles.

Types of anaemia linked to hair loss

Several types of anaemia have been associated with hair loss, including:

  • Iron deficiency anaemia: This is the most common form of anaemia and is characterised by a lack of iron in the body. As mentioned, the decreased availability of iron can directly impact hair growth and lead to excessive shedding
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia: Vitamin B12 is essential for the production of red blood cells. A deficiency in this vitamin can also contribute to hair loss
  • Folate deficiency anaemia: Folate, also known as vitamin B9, is another crucial nutrient for red blood cell production. A deficiency in folate can result in anaemia and associated hair loss
  • Aplastic anaemia: This rare form of anaemia occurs when the bone marrow fails to produce sufficient red blood cells, leading to a variety of health complications, including hair loss

The impact of anaemia on hair follicles

Iron deficiency causes hair loss and can have a detrimental effect on the health and function of hair follicles. This shows up in several ways:

  • Decreased hair growth: The reduced availability of oxygen and nutrients can slow down the growth and regeneration of hair follicles, leading to a decrease in overall hair density
  • Increased hair shedding: Anaemia can disrupt the hair growth cycle and cause hair follicles to move from the growth phase (anagen) into the resting phase (telogen), resulting in increased hair shedding or telogen effluvium
  • Hair thinning and brittleness: The compromised health of hair follicles can lead to the production of finer, weaker, and more brittle hair strands, contributing to an overall thinning of the hair. In some cases of low levels of iron, the hair loss may copy the male and female pattern baldness as seen with Alopecia

Risk factors

Several factors can increase an individual’s risk of developing anaemia-related hair loss, including:

Dietary factors

  • Inadequate intake of iron-rich foods: A diet lacking in iron-rich foods, such as red meat, poultry, seafood, beans, and leafy green vegetables, can contribute to iron deficiency anemia and subsequent hair loss
  • Vegetarian or Vegan diets: Individuals following plant-based diets may be at a higher risk of developing iron deficiency anemia, as the body absorbs iron from plant-based sources less efficiently than from animal-based sources
  • Malabsorption disorders: Conditions that impair the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, such as coeliac disease or inflammatory bowel diseases, can lead to nutrient deficiencies and anaemia-related hair loss

Hormonal and reproductive factors

  • Menstrual irregularities: Heavy or prolonged menstrual periods can result in significant blood loss, leading to iron deficiency anaemia and associated hair loss, particularly in women of reproductive age
  • Pregnancy and postpartum: Pregnant women and those in the postpartum period are at an increased risk of developing anaemia due to the increased demand for iron and blood volume changes. This can contribute to hair loss during and after pregnancy
  • menopause: The hormonal changes associated with menopause can also impact the body’s iron balance, potentially leading to anaemia and hair loss in some women

Lifestyle and medical factors

  • Frequent blood donations: Individuals who regularly donate blood may be at risk of developing iron deficiency anemia, which can subsequently affect hair growth
  • Chronic diseases: Certain chronic conditions, such as kidney disease, cancer, and autoimmune disorders, can disrupt the body’s ability to maintain adequate iron levels, increasing the risk of anaemia-related hair loss
  • Medications: Some medications, such as certain antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and chemotherapeutic agents, can contribute to hair loss as a side effect, which may be exacerbated by underlying anaemia

Diagnosing

Identifying the underlying cause of hair loss is crucial for effective treatment. When anaemia is suspected as a contributing factor, healthcare professionals typically follow a comprehensive diagnostic approach:

Laboratory tests

  • Complete blood count (CBC): This test measures the levels of red blood cells, hemoglobin, and other blood components, providing insights into the presence and severity of anaemia
  • Ferritin level: Ferritin is a protein that stores iron in the body. Its levels can indicate the body’s iron reserves. Low ferritin levels are a strong indicator of iron deficiency anemia
  • Iron, TIBC, and Transferrin Saturation: These tests provide additional information about the body’s iron status and can help differentiate between various types of anaemia

Physical examination and medical history

  • Scalp evaluation: Healthcare professionals will closely examine the scalp for signs of hair thinning, shedding, or other abnormalities that may indicate the presence of anaemia-related hair loss
  • Review of medical history: Detailed information about the individual’s dietary habits, menstrual history, medication use, and any underlying medical conditions can help identify potential contributing factors to anaemia and hair loss

Ruling out other causes

To ensure an accurate diagnosis, healthcare providers may also explore and rule out other potential causes of hair loss, such as thyroid disorders, autoimmune conditions, or hormonal imbalances.

Treatment options

The management of anaemia-related hair loss typically involves a two-way approach: Addressing the underlying anaemia and supporting hair regrowth.

Treating the underlying anaemia

  • Dietary changes: Increasing the consumption of iron-rich foods, such as red meat, poultry, seafood, beans, lentils, and leafy greens, can help replenish the body’s iron stores and address iron deficiency anemia
  • Supplementation: In cases of severe or persistent anaemia, healthcare providers may prescribe iron supplements to help restore normal iron levels and support the production of healthy red blood cells
  • Treating underlying conditions: If the anaemia is caused by an underlying medical condition, such as coeliac disease or inflammatory bowel disorders, addressing the underlying condition may also help resolve the anaemia-related hair loss

Supporting hair regrowth

  • Minoxidil: Topical treatments containing minoxidil, a medication that stimulates hair growth, can be used in conjunction with addressing the underlying anaemia to promote hair regrowth
  • Laser therapy: Low-level laser therapy (LLLT) has been shown to enhance blood circulation and stimulate the hair follicles, potentially aiding in hair regrowth for individuals with anaemia-related hair loss
  • Nutritional supplements: In addition to addressing the anaemia, healthcare providers may recommend taking supplements containing biotin, zinc, and other nutrients that support healthy hair growth

Monitoring

Regular follow-up and monitoring are essential to ensure the effectiveness of the treatment plan for anaemia-related hair loss. Healthcare providers will typically:

  • Repeat blood tests: Regularly monitoring the individual’s blood work, including ferritin levels and other anaemia markers, to ensure the anaemia is being effectively managed
  • Assess hair growth: Closely evaluate the individual’s hair growth and density over time to determine the effectiveness of the treatment approach
  • Adjust treatment: Based on the individual’s response to the initial treatment, healthcare providers may need to make adjustments to the dietary, supplementation, or other therapeutic interventions to optimise the outcome

Prevention

In addition to treating the underlying anaemia, taking proactive steps to maintain healthy iron levels and overall well-being can help prevent the onset of anaemia-related hair loss. Strategies may include:

  • Balanced diet: Increasing iron intake in your diet by consuming foods, such as red meat, poultry, cereals, seafood, beans, lentils, and leafy greens, can help maintain adequate iron levels and reduce the risk of anaemia. Vitamin C helps your body absorb iron, so try incorporating more of it into your diet
  • Supplementation: In some cases, healthcare providers may recommend taking iron supplements, particularly for individuals at higher risk of anaemia, such as women of childbearing age or those following a vegetarian or vegan diet
  • Regular blood monitoring: Routine blood tests to monitor iron, ferritin, and other anaemia markers can help identify any potential deficiencies early on, allowing for timely intervention
  • Addressing underlying conditions: Proactively managing any underlying medical conditions that may contribute to anaemia, such as coeliac disease or inflammatory bowel disorders, can help prevent anaemia-related hair loss
  • Lifestyle changes: Adopting healthy habits, such as managing stress, maintaining a balanced sleep schedule, and engaging in regular physical activity, can support overall health and potentially mitigate the risk of anaemia-related hair loss

Conclusion

Anaemia, particularly iron deficiency anaemia, can have a significant impact on hair health and contribute to hair loss. By understanding the underlying causes, identifying the risk factors and symptoms, healthcare professionals and individuals can work together to address anaemia-related hair loss and promote healthy, vibrant hair.

Sources

 

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