Alopecia Areata - Related Conditions

What you need to know about alopecia areata related conditions

If you have alopecia areata, you may also have one or more related diseases. The most common of these include other autoimmune diseases (such as thyroid disease), atopic conditions (such as asthma, allergic rhinitis or hay fever , atopic dermatitis and other forms of eczema) and mental health impact (such as depression or anxiety).

These kinds of related diseases are known as “comorbid conditions.” Comorbid simply means that one condition exists in the body together with another condition. It’s important to understand which comorbid conditions you may be at higher risk for, so that you can work with your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms of these conditions.

I have thyroid disease and alopecia areata — is one the cause of the other?

Many diseases have related conditions, but that just means one disease exists alongside another

Get the facts on alopecia areata related conditions and the signs and symptoms you should look for

Learn how to spot depression or anxiety and when it is time to seek medical advice or counseling

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Autoimmune diseases

Diseases that cause your immune system to go haywire and attack its own tissues are known as autoimmune diseases. Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease where your immune system attacks its own healthy hair follicles. Studies show that people with alopecia areata can have other autoimmune diseases, such as thyroid disease. However, the fact that you have alopecia areata doesn’t mean you will automatically develop another autoimmune disease. Either way, it’s important to talk with your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms of these conditions.

Thyroid disease

The thyroid is a buttery-shaped gland at the base of the neck that produces the thyroid hormone which controls your metabolism. Any kind of abnormality in the thyroid that results in its inability to function normally is known as thyroid disease. Some thyroid conditions such as Hashimoto’s, are considered autoimmune diseases.

Thyroid disease is divided into hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) and hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid). These affect people of diffierent ages and both sexes, and include a wide range of symptoms, depending on which type of thyroid disease a person has.

Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:

  • Increased appetite
  • Weak muscles
  • Fatigue
  • Rapid heartbeat, irregular heartbeat, or pounding of the heart
  • Nervousness and anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Trembling in the hands and fingers
  • Sweating
  • Changes in menstrual patterns
  • A greater sensitivity to heat
  • Changes in bowel movements
  • Enlarged thyroid
  • Diffculty sleeping
  • Thinning of the skin
  • Fine hair that easily breaks and splits

Symptoms of hypothyroidism include:

  • Feeling cold
  • Constipation
  • Weak muscles
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Weight gain
  • Sadness or depression
  • Fatigue
  • Pale, dry skin
  • Dry, thinning hair
  • Slow heart rate
  • Less sweating
  • A puffy face
  • A hoarse (rough) sounding voice
  • Heavy menstrual bleeding

Other autoimmune diseases

Additional autoimmune diseases that can sometimes be associated with alopecia areata through common genes include type 1 diabetes, celiac disease and rheumatoid arthritis, among others. The risk of developing these conditions in individuals with alopecia areata is low, though family members may show an increased incidence of other autoimmune diseases, since these tend to cluster in families.

Did you know?

Comorbid conditions are diseases that exist in the same person at the same time; one is not the cause of the other. The only way to know if you have comorbid conditions with your alopecia areata is to make an appointment with your doctor.

Atopic Conditions

Atopic conditions are those that make a person more likely to develop allergic “hypersensitivity” reactions. Studies indicate that people who have alopecia areata may also have atopic conditions, too. These include allergic rhinitis also commonly called hay fever, asthma, and atopic dermatitis. Unlike other comorbid conditions, people with alopecia areata who also have an atopic condition may notice a seasonal change in their alopecia areata, as their allergies flare up or calm down.

Atopic conditions are by far the most common comorbid conditions with alopecia areata. However, the fact that you have alopecia areata doesn’t mean you will also develop one of these atopic conditions. Either way, it’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of this family of conditions.

Asthma

Asthma is an atopic (allergy) condition that causes a person’s airways to become inflamed, swollen and narrow, which makes it difficult to breathe. This leads to tightness in the chest, coughing and wheezing. Asthma commonly first appears in childhood, but can continue throughout your life. Some people with asthma only experience it from time to time, while others require constant treatment in order to prevent it from getting worse.

Symptoms of asthma include

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Tight chest
  • Shortness of breath

Allergic Rhinitis or Hay Fever

Allergic rhinitis is an inflammation in the nose and sinuses, which is linked to allergens like seasonal pollen, dust mites and pet dander. It is also known as “hay fever.”

Many people suffer from seasonal hay fever at different places or times of the year depending on what triggers their allergies.

Symptoms of allergic rhinitis/hay fever include

  • An itchy nose, mouth, eyes or skin
  • A runny nose and/or stuffy nose
  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes
  • Sore throat

Eczema

Eczema is a condition that causes the skin to be red and itchy. It often appears in early childhood. Babies usually develop it on their face (especially the cheeks and chin), but it can appear anywhere on the body. The most common type of eczema is called atopic dermatitis (AD). All of types of eczema cause itching and redness, but some may also cause a person’s skin to blister, “weep,” or peel.

Symptoms of eczema may include

  • Dry, sensitive skin
  • Red, inflamed skin
  • Itching
  • A rash that keeps coming back
  • Rough, leathery or scaly patches of skin
  • Oozing or crusting

Mental Health Impact

Depression or Anxiety

Because hair loss and regrowth from alopecia areata is unpredictable and sometimes it comes back again and again, it can be emotionally challenging for people to live with the disease.

People with alopecia areata commonly report feelings of frustration, embarrassment and sometimes sadness and fear related to their condition. If you have had these feelings for more than several weeks, or if they seem overwhelming or too difficult to manage on your own, it’s important to make an appointment with your doctor because you may be experiencing depression or anxiety.

Symptoms of depression and anxiety may include

  • Loneliness
  • Withdrawal or isolation
  • Hopelessness
  • Restlessness (unable to sit still)
  • Feeling frantic
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Problems with sleeping
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or other activities
  • Decreased energy, feeling tired more often
  • Weight change
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Sadness or depression

Learn more about alopecia areata and emotional wellness.