Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects millions of people in the United States, and it can cause many symptoms that negatively impact daily life. There are plenty of lifestyle changes and medical interventions that can help keep the symptoms of diabetes at bay. Working closely with your doctor can drastically improve your quality of life with diabetes.
Learn more about the signs and symptoms of diabetes, how it can impact hair loss, and some strategies for preventing hair loss with diabetes.
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Diabetes impacts your body's ability either to produce insulin or to use it efficiently. Insulin is a hormone that helps glucose from your food get into your cells where it can be used for energy.
When your body doesn’t have enough insulin or can't utilize it correctly to get glucose into your cells, glucose levels increase in your bloodstream. This can cause numerous symptoms, including:
More frequent infections
Numbness in hands and feet
These are just a few of the many symptoms associated with diabetes. If you think you might have diabetes, make an appointment to talk with your doctor immediately. Your doctor will review your symptoms and health history, and they may perform a physical exam. From there, your doctor may also order blood tests to measure your blood glucose level in various situations.
If you do receive a diagnosis of diabetes, your doctor will work with you to determine the best treatment options. Diabetes can be well managed, and many people with the condition can live long, healthy lives.
A less commonly discussed impact that diabetes can have on the body is increased hair loss. Having uncontrolled diabetes, where blood sugar levels remain high for long periods of time, can cause damage to the small blood vessels in the scalp.
These blood vessels are responsible for delivering oxygen and nutrients to the hair follicles. Therefore, having diabetes can directly cause hair to fall out, slow hair growth, and/or stop new hair from forming and growing.
Although diabetes can cause hair loss on its own, some people with diabetes begin to lose hair due to additional factors.
Diabetes can certainly be the main cause of hair loss in many individuals, but there are several other potential reasons why a person may begin to lose their hair, such as:
Some stress is normal in everyday life. However, high levels of stress over time can wreak havoc on the body. Stress can alter hormone levels and lead to unpleasant symptoms, including:
Increased aches and pains
Inability to focus
Additionally, chronic stress can disrupt the normal hair growth cycle and cause it to fall out at an increased rate. Severe or chronic stress can also be a risk factor for developing Alopecia areata.
Receiving a diabetes diagnosis, and managing the condition for several years, can be a stressful process on its own. Whether you have diabetes or not, getting control of your stress as much as possible can help prevent hair loss and other symptoms.
Hormonal issues not caused by stress can also lead to hair loss. Some women notice hair loss when they experience menopause due to the decrease in reproductive hormones. Many men also begin to lose their hair with age due to changes in their androgen levels.
Other hormonal conditions, like hypothyroidism, may also contribute to hair loss. Hypothyroidism is an autoimmune disorder which negatively impacts the function of the thyroid and its related hormones. Having an autoimmune disorder like hypothyroidism or type 1 diabetes also increases your odds of developing Alopecia areata.
Alopecia areata is a condition that causes your immune system to attack your body's hair follicles, mistaking them for bacteria or foreign bodies that make you sick. This causes damage to hair follicles, which often prompts existing hair to fall out and prevents new hair from growing in its place.
There is currently no cure for alopecia areata, but the good news is that the damage to the hair follicle is reversible. Alternatively, there are now several great treatment options to help it grow back if it doesn't on its own.
People with diabetes often suffer from poor circulation as a result of damage to the blood vessels. This reduces the amount of blood flow to different areas of your body, especially your hands and feet.
Poor circulation can cause hair loss and a whole host of symptoms on its own, such as:
Cold hands and feet
Dry and cracked skin
Tingling in hands and feet
Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to improve circulation over time, including:
Frequent exercise breaks
Eating foods high in iron, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids
Wearing compression socks
Keeping blood sugars at healthy levels
Most medications can cause at least some side effects, and hair loss can be one of them. Some of the medications that most commonly lead to hair loss include:
High blood pressure medications
Some contraception drugs
Antibiotics and antifungal medications
Acne medications, particularly those containing vitamin A
Cancer medications and chemotherapy
This is just a small list of the numerous medications that can lead to hair loss. If you are taking any of these medications, or you believe that your hair loss might be caused by one of your prescriptions, you can talk with your doctor about trying a new medication or intervention to prevent hair loss.
Growing hair after experiencing hair loss due to diabetes is possible, but it can take longer than you might wish. Hair growth isn't linear, and it actually comes and goes in three distinct phases.
Most of the hair on your head is actively growing back at any given time, but a small percentage is likely sitting at a standstill, not growing at all. Recovering from hair loss can take several months, or even years, depending upon the severity of the condition, lifestyle habits, and whether you use treatments to grow hair back.
To better understand why it can take so long to grow your hair back after losing it, below is a more detailed explanation of the three phases of hair growth.
It's understandable that many people think hair follicles constantly work to produce more hair, but there are actually three different phases within the hair growth cycle.
Anagen phase: The cells within the root of your hair divide at a fast rate, producing new hair. This new hair pushes out the old hair that is currently in the follicle where the new hair is growing, which eventually causes the old hair to fall out.
Throughout the anagen phase, hair tends to grow approximately one centimeter every four weeks. Generally, scalp hair maintains its anagen phase for two to six years at a time.
Catagen (regression) phase: This is a transitional phase, as it only lasts between two to three weeks at a time. During this phase, the hair stops growing, and the root of the hair begins to shrink. By the end of this phase, a club hair is formed, which means it is no longer actively growing, but stays anchored to the follicle.
Telogen (resting) phase: In the scalp, the resting phase typically lasts approximately 100 days, and the hair follicle is not growing at all. Hair that is in the telogen phase usually has a white clump attached to the end if pulled from the scalp. People typically lose under 100 telogen hairs a day as about 10% of the scalp hair is in this phase at any time.
There are several ways you can work to prevent hair loss. This includes a few simple preventative measures that can go a long way in reducing the amount of hair you might lose from diabetes or other hair loss-related conditions.
Some of the best ways to prevent hair loss include:
Many people with long hair like to put their hair in a tight ponytail, bun, or braids. These types of hairdos can place tension on your hair and damage follicles over time, which eventually leads to increased hair loss. To prevent hair loss, you can wear your hair down or opt for looser updos, like thicker braids, dreadlocks, or loose ponytails and buns.
If you notice that your hairstyle is causing pain or stinging on your scalp, prompting crusts to form or leading to tenting, you should change your hairstyle as soon as possible.
The main reason why diabetes causes hair loss is because of high blood sugar levels damaging hair follicles. One way to combat the issue is by getting your blood sugar under control.
After you receive your diabetes diagnosis, it can be hard to adjust to the lifestyle guidelines your doctor recommends, which usually include a balanced diet, adequate exercise, and blood sugar monitoring. In some cases, your doctor may also prescribe medications to help with blood sugar control, which you should take as prescribed to get the best results.
Many people keep hair dryers, straighteners, and curling irons in their arsenal of hair styling tools. These devices can be used occasionally for special events, but you should limit their use in everyday styles, as they can damage your hair over time.
Using chemicals to treat or bleach your hair can also lead to hair loss, as they damage the keratin that helps to hold it in place.
While it can be tempting to aggressively brush your hair when there are knots present, this can also tug at your hair follicles and lead to hair loss. Instead, purchase a wide-tooth comb and use gentle strokes to avoid additional hair loss and damage. Try not to tug at your hair while you brush it, and avoid brushing it while it is wet.
Thanks to recent advances in medical science, there are now more treatment options for hair loss than ever before. If your hair loss isn't responding to lifestyle changes, or you want to pair a hair loss treatment with your diabetes management plan, here are a few options to consider:
Biotin is a supplement commonly recommended for those suffering from hair loss, especially alopecia. Biotin is a B vitamin found in some vegetables, nuts, seeds, eggs, and more. It appears to be an effective, yet safe and accessible treatment option. Many dermatologists recommend a B-vitamin combination supplement that offers a mixture of biotin, vitamin C, zinc, and folic acid.
People with diabetes may benefit from using Rogaine, which is an over-the-counter liquid or foam that is applied directly on the scalp to prompt increased hair growth. It is often applied once or twice per day, and it can take a few months to see results. Speak with your doctor or dermatologist before trying Rogaine to determine if it is the best treatment for you.
Finasteride, also called Propecia, is a prescription medication that can treat hair loss in adult men. It is given as an oral tablet taken daily, and it can increase the number of hairs present on the scalp, but not the rest of the body. The drug works by preventing the body from producing an enzyme called 5-alpha-reductase, which can lead to hair loss in men.
Finasteride should not be used by women as it could have serious side effects and is not currently FDA approved for use in women.
This procedure involves getting blood drawn, which is then put into a centrifuge machine that spins blood to separate out the different parts. Then, the platelet-rich plasma is collected from the blood sample and injected into the scalp.
Platelet-rich plasma contains high levels of growth factors, which can help provide more oxygen and nutrients to the hair follicles, prompting hair growth. This treatment option is promising, but it can cost several thousand dollars and isn't usually covered by insurance.
Hair or follicle transplants are typically saved as a final treatment option, as they are expensive and don't always provide a long-term solution to hair loss if the underlying cause isn't also addressed. If you have addressed your blood sugar levels and diabetes management, and you want fuller, thicker hair in a relatively short amount of time, this option might be right for you.
However, bear in mind that this is a procedure that could carry many minor or major side effects and complications, so it is important to do your research to decide if it is the right thing for you and worth the potential risks.
If you have diabetes, it's helpful to see your doctor at regular intervals for them to check your blood sugar levels and tweak your treatment plan if needed. If you are worried about hair loss, you can schedule an appointment to talk to your doctor, too.
Many conditions have hair loss as a symptom, so your doctor may want to perform a physical exam to see if you are suffering from other symptoms, and take blood tests to rule out other possible causes.
If doctors can detect what might be causing your hair loss, they may prescribe some medications, or they may provide you with a referral to a dermatologist. Dermatologists specialize in conditions related to the skin, which include hair growth and loss.
Having diabetes is difficult enough, but adding hair loss on top of it all can increase the psychological burden of this condition. The good news is that hair loss from diabetes isn't permanent, and there are several avenues you can take to restore your hair.
Before trying any treatments, it is recommended to talk to your doctor, as they can help you weigh the pros and cons of the treatment you are considering.