Fibromyalgia and Hair Loss
Fibromyalgia and hair loss, clinically known as Alopecia, are frequently linked with hair loss being a common symptom associated with Fibromyalgia. Alopecia is a common skin disease that results in the loss of hair on the scalp (and possibly elsewhere on the body). It typically begins with a small, round, and smooth patch on the scalp and can progress to complete baldness or total loss of body hair. Alopecia affects roughly 2% of the general population and 4.7 million people in the United States. It is a very unpredictable disease, as the hair can grow back or fall out at any given time, and the disease course varies for each individual.
There are no treatments for Alopecia that are currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), however many doctors may try to use a medication “off-label” (i.e., for a purpose other than what it is FDA-approved, which is legal under most circumstances). For individuals with mild and patchy Alopecia, several treatment options are available.
- Cortisone injections: A common treatment that is utilized is to inject the steroid known as cortisone into the bare patches of skin. This is typically done by a dermatologist once per month. If any new growth occurs as a result, it is generally visible within four weeks.
- Minoxidil: Another treatment that is sometimes used is to apply a mixture of 5% minoxidil to the affected areas two times per day. Minoxidil is the active ingredient in current hair loss products such as Rogaine.
- Anthralin: Anthralin cream or ointment, which is commonly used to treat psoriasis, is applied to the bare patches once per day and washed off after a period of time (typically 30 minutes to an hour later). New hair growth – if it results – will occur in eight to 12 weeks.
For individuals with more severe Alopecia (those with total loss of hair on the scalp or total loss of hair on the scalp and entire body), fewer effective treatment options are available. Cortisone pills are an option, as cortisone taken internally is much more effective than that which is injected into the skin. Unfortunately, there are a great number of side effects associated with long-term cortisone use, so this option is not frequently considered. Also, any hair that does grow as a result will fall out once the pills are stopped.
Another treatment method that is sometimes used for those with severe Alopecia is topical immunotherapy. This involves placing certain mild chemicals on the skin to elicit an allergic immune response from the body. It produces a mild rash that resembles poison oak or poison ivy. However, approximately 40% of people who use this treatment will re-grow hair on their scalp after about six months. Unfortunately, treatment must be continued in order to maintain hair growth. This treatment is not available everywhere in the U.S. and is most commonly used in Canada and Europe.
In addition to conventional medical therapies, a number of natural remedies have demonstrated effectiveness in treating Alopecia. Evidence from one study showed that lavender oil (combined with essential oils of thyme, rosemary, and cedarwood) improved hair growth in 44% of Alopecia sufferers who were treated over a 7 month period (Hay et al., 1998). This study evaluated 86 patients with Alopecia and randomly assigned them into two groups: the “active” group were instructed to massage essential oils – including thyme, rosemary, lavender, and cedarwood – into their scalp daily. These oils were contained in a carrier oil mixture of jojoba and grapeseed. The “control” group was instructed to use only carrier oils for their daily massage. Using photographic evaluation, dermatologists independently reviewed the images of the subjects’ hair loss and found that 19 patients (44%) in the active group showed improvement, versus only six (15%) in the control group.
Other natural products, including zinc, biotin, coenzyme-Q10, and saw palmetto, among others, have been evaluated as treatment options for Alopecia, but none have demonstrated effectiveness to date.
Alopecia and Fibromyalgia
A review of the medical literature does not reveal any scientific research studies regarding an association between Fibromyalgia and hair loss. Very limited anecdotal information can be found after conducting a broader Internet search. Despite this, hair loss in general is frequently reported as a secondary symptom of Fibromyalgia, though whether it is the result of other Fibromyalgia complications or directly related to the disease itself is not well-understood. For example, both stress and sleep disturbances are commonly associated with Fibromyalgia; however, hair loss is commonly linked to all three.
In a survey of 185 healthetreatment.com members who report a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia, 4.5% reported suffering from Alopecia (loss of hair from the head that can progress to total baldness). Most users reported mild to moderate hair loss, with a few reporting severe and very severe hair loss. These findings should be taken with caution, however, as the number of subjects reporting hair loss is small (17) and it is unclear if their hair loss is directly related to the Fibromyalgia or to some other underlying medical condition.
According to the website of Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, an expert on Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, hair loss is common among Fibromyalgia sufferers, though he cites no statistics to support this claim. For general hair thinning, Dr. Teitelbaum recommends treating any underlying nutritional deficiencies and thyroid gland dysfunction (even if thyroid labs appear normal).
In summary, hair loss is commonly reported among those who suffer from Fibromyalgia. Whether hair loss is a direct result of the condition itself, or is due to other related symptoms (such as stress and sleep disturbances) is not known. Treatment of Alopecia is not entirely effective but options do exist. Steroid therapy, immune therapy, nutritional therapy, thyroid functioning evaluation, and natural therapies with essential oils may be of benefit to those who suffer from hair loss.