When pop singer Selena Gomez finally explained her recent absence, announcing that she had been having chemotherapy for lupus, the response typically had two parts: firstly, sympathy for the 23-year-old, and then the inevitable question…
What is lupus?
Lupus is an illness of the immune system that can affect any part of the body, potentially causing irreversible damage to a number of major organs, principally the kidneys and skin but also the lungs, heart and brain. Probably genetic, it affects mainly women – around 90% of lupus sufferers are female – and it tends to be during their 20s, 30s and 40s. It is often triggered by hormonal activity and change, so may occur after puberty, childbirth or menopause. The two major symptoms common to nearly all cases of lupus are joint and muscle pain and extreme tiredness that is not alleviated by rest. These are usually accompanied by a variety of symptoms that may include hair loss, rashes, mouth ulcers, headaches, anaemia and depression, but the range means the lupus is not always immediately spotted by GPs.
Will lupus cause hair loss?
With lupus, the immune system over-produces antibodies that then cause reactions throughout the body leading to inflammatory processes. This can affect the hair follicles so hair loss is certainly a possible symptom, although the severity of most lupus symptoms can range from debilitating to very mild – and lupus-related hair loss is usually a temporary condition. Before treating the hair loss, it is important to get the disease under control so over-the-counter treatments such as minoxidil should be avoided. Hair loss, too, can be a side effect of a treatment for lupus: chemotherapy, as experienced by singer Selena Gomez, works to reduce the activity of the overly active immune system. Other medications include steroids, anti-malarials and immunosuppressants, the side effects of which will be outlined by a doctor before any treatment commences.