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.

Crohn’s disease leads to inflammation in part of the gastrointestinal tract, which stretches from the mouth to the anus. It is a chronic condition that can flare up for periods and then go into remission. The whole bowel wall can become inflamed, or the condition may occur in patches, where inflammation occurs in between sections of healthy bowel walls.

Hair loss is common in people with IBD. This may be due to various factors.

This article explores some of the factors underlying hair loss and provides tips for managing it.

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Some people living with Crohn’s disease experience hair loss, according to a 2021 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.

There are various factors that may lead to hair loss in people with Crohn’s disease. These include:

  • medications
  • malnutrition
  • stress

Learn more about alopecia areata.

The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation lists hair loss as one side effect of the drugs mesalamine (Canasa) 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 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.

Read about Crohn’s disease treatment options.

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

If Crohn’s disease 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. When the body absorbs fewer essential nutrients than it needs, it may affect hair growth.

Malnourishment can make symptoms worse. A person who is experiencing malnourishment may find themselves:

  • avoiding eating a variety of foods or not eating enough food
  • feeling tired and having low energy
  • losing weight
  • feeling weak
  • losing muscle
  • showing signs of mineral and vitamin deficiency

Symptoms of Crohn’s disease that can lead to malnutrition include:

  • 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
  • small intestinal damage that can lead to the inability to absorb iron
  • 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. The aim is often to help heal the issues that Crohn’s disease causes, allowing a person to eat a healthier and more complete diet.

Learn about Crohn’s disease and nutritional deficiencies.

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

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 the rats’ adrenal glands containing the stress hormone, the rodents had rapid cycles of hair regrowth. When they fed the stress hormone to the rats, it hindered and slowed hair regrowth.

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 disease 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 necessary
  • using self-relaxation techniques, such as mindful breathing, if things do not go according to plan

Read about ways to lower cortisol.

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:

  • stopping any treatments that may damage hair, including dyes, chemical straightening, relaxing, or perms
  • using hot implements such as flat irons, curling irons, and hot combs only for special occasions
  • allowing hair to dry naturally
  • using a gentle shampoo and conditioner after every wash
  • wrapping the hair to soak up excess water instead of rubbing the hair with a towel
  • brushing and combing hair just enough to style
  • quitting or avoiding smoking, if applicable
  • eating a balanced, nutritious diet.

Learn about how to treat hair loss.

A person needs to contact a healthcare professional regarding hair loss if they experience the following:

  • Their hair suddenly comes out in clumps.
  • Bald patches with no or odd hairs develop on the scalp.
  • The head is itching or burning.
  • They have concerns about hair loss.

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

Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that can cause various symptoms that may be distressing. 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 may help prevent hair loss.

Malnutrition due to Crohn’s disease may reduce the micronutrients the body needs for healthy hair growth. A person needs to ensure they manage their Crohn’s disease. They also need to follow a nutritious and balanced diet to help prevent malnutrition, which can lead to hair loss. They can speak with a healthcare professional about vitamin and mineral supplements if necessary.

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

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

If a person’s hair begins falling out suddenly or bald patches appear, they can consult a healthcare professional.