Crohn’s disease is an autoimmune disorder and a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Some people with IBD experience hair loss that is usually temporary. This may be due to medication, malnutrition, stress, or other factors.

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Crohn’s disease leads to inflammation in part of a person’s gastrointestinal tract, which stretches from the mouth to the anus.

Around 3 million U.S. adults were diagnosed with IBD in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This number includes people living with ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Many people develop the disease between the ages of 20 and 30.

Hair loss is common in people with IBD. This article will explore some of the factors underlying hair loss and provide tips for managing it.

Crohn’s disease is a chronic condition that can flare up for periods of time, then go into remission. Along with ulcerative colitis, it is a type of IBD. The whole bowel wall can become inflamed, or the condition may occur in patches, with healthy parts of the bowel mixed among inflamed parts.

Learn more about Crohn’s disease here.

Some people living with Crohn’s disease experience hair loss, according to a 2015 study.

One type of hair loss that results from immune system activity is alopecia areata, though an overly active immune system can also cause other types of hair loss. People may lose hair from just their scalp or other areas of the body. The hair loss can be patchy and may be more noticeable during a flare-up.

Learn more about alopecia areata here.

Below are some factors that may contribute to hair loss in people with Crohn’s disease.

The Crohn’s and Colitis foundation lists hair loss as one side effect of the drugs mesalamine and methotrexate. However, a 2015 study suggests that using mesalamine may provide some protection from hair loss.

The study found that, out of 150 people with IBD, around one-third reported hair loss. People who took mesalamine or anti-tumor necrosis factor (anti-TNF) medications reported the least hair loss. The researchers suggested that the drugs may have prevented hair loss, although they were unsure how.

According to a 2021 study, treatment with thiopurines may also result in hair loss. Researchers note that a person’s hair should grow back once treatment has finished.

Maintaining a balanced, nutritious diet is very important for a person living with Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s disease can affect the body’s ability to properly digest nutrients, water, and minerals. This can lead to malnutrition.

If Crohn’s affects a person’s small intestine, they may not be able to digest food or absorb nutrients. If it affects the large intestine, a person may not absorb water and electrolytes efficiently.

Healthy hair growth requires proteins, vitamins, and minerals, according to a 2019 review of studies. When the body absorbs fewer essential nutrients than it needs, it may affect hair growth.

Malnourishment can make a person’s symptoms worse. A person who is malnourished may:

  • avoid eating a variety of food or not eat enough food
  • feel tired and have low energy
  • lose weight
  • feel weak
  • lose muscle
  • show signs of mineral and vitamin deficiency

When Crohn’s disease leads to malnutrition, a person may experience symptoms including:

  • severe diarrhea, which results in the body losing water, electrolytes, and nutrients
  • nausea and abdominal pain, which may lead to appetite loss, weight loss, and malnutrition
  • bleeding from ulcers in the intestines and exiting through the rectum, which may result in iron deficiency anemia
  • frequent bowel movements, which may cause a person to refrain from eating so they have to make fewer bathroom visits

If a person suspects they have malnutrition, they can ask a doctor to test them for vitamin and mineral deficiencies. A healthcare professional can help an individual identify foods that trigger their symptoms so they can avoid them.

Read about foods to eat and avoid for Crohn’s disease here.

Chronic stress may result in hair loss, according to the National Institutes of Health.

One 2021 animal study found a strong link between the stress hormone corticosterone and hair growth in rats. The human equivalent of corticosterone is cortisol.

When researchers removed rats’ adrenal glands containing the stress hormone, the rats had rapid cycles of hair regrowth. When they fed the stress hormone to the rats, hair regrowth did the opposite and slowed down.

The researchers concluded that increased levels of stress hormones might restrict hair growth, whereas lower levels of stress hormones may promote hair growth.

The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation points out that stress is a natural hormonal response to a situation that needs action. Living with Crohn’s symptoms can be stressful for long periods.

A person can help manage their stress by:

  • being prepared for urgent bathroom visits, including knowing bathroom locations and carrying extra underwear
  • being kind to themselves and acknowledging that they are coping as well as they can
  • asking friends or family for help or support when needed
  • using self-relaxation techniques, such as mindful breathing, if things do not go according to plan

Read about ways to lower cortisol here.

Hair loss for a person living with Crohn’s disease is usually temporary, but it is possible to lose clumps of hair, which may result in bald patches.

Tips for managing hair loss from the American Academy of Dermatology include:

  • Stop any treatments that may damage hair, including dyes, chemical straightening, relaxing, or perms.
  • Use hot implements such as flat irons, curling irons, and hot combs only for special occasions.
  • Allow hair to dry naturally.
  • Use a gentle shampoo and condition after every wash.
  • Instead of rubbing with a towel, wrap the hair to soak up excess water.
  • Brush and comb hair just enough to style.
  • Avoid smoking, if you do not already do so.
  • Eat a balanced, nutritious diet.

Learn about how to treat hair loss here.

A person should contact a medical professional regarding hair loss if they experience the following:

  • Hair suddenly comes out in clumps.
  • Bald patches with no or odd hairs develop on the scalp.
  • The head is itching or burning.
  • A person is worried about their hair loss.

Hair loss can be one of the first signs of Crohn’s disease.

Hair loss associated with Crohn’s disease is not usually permanent, though it can still cause great distress.

A person can talk with their doctor about switching to medications that are less likely to cause hair loss. They can also take steps to prevent hair loss by taking care of their hair, eating a healthy diet, and reducing stress.

Crohn’s disease is a common IBD that causes distressing symptoms. Hair loss is common in people with IBD.

Although it is not inevitable, certain medications can lead to hair loss in some people. Other medications seem to prevent hair loss.

Malnutrition caused by Crohn’s disease may reduce the micronutrients the body needs for healthy hair growth. A person can try to manage their diet to reduce flare-ups that lead to hair loss.

Chronic stress can lead to hair loss. A person can try to manage their stress to slow down hair loss.

To prevent hair loss, a person can avoid using treatments and hairstyles that damage the hair.

If a person’s hair begins falling out suddenly or bald patches appear, they should talk with a healthcare professional.