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March 25, 2002

Other Illnesses

Question from Boise, Idaho, USA:

A few weeks ago, my 11 year old daughter, just diagnosed about two months ago, began losing quite a bit of hair. Her thyroid test was normal, and the doctor said it could be hormones, but I think it's more likely caused by the stress her body has gone through. Can you explain the hormone relationship to hair growth or loss? What kind of a time frame am I looking at with this?

Answer:

There are two types of hair loss that are seen with type 1A (autoimmune) diabetes. One is called alopecia areata which is now accepted as a rather rare component of the Autoimmune Polyglandular Syndrome Type II. The fact that your daughter’s thyroid test was normal is a little against this but doesn’t absolutely discount it. In this form the loss of hair tends to become complete, but limited to distinctly circumscribed areas and very rarely affects the whole scalp and is permanent. Treatment is uncertain and it would be wise to get the advice of a dermatologist if this seemed possible.

It is however fairly common to see a diffuse thinning of the hair in the early months of autoimmune diabetes. This doesn’t need any cosmetic or pharmacological remedy and recovers slowly over a period of weeks. I don’t think the basic reason for this is understood especially if there is evidence of any autoimmune basis. Stress, as you point out, is often quoted as a cause of hair loss, but there have been some vigorous denials of this too. Personally I think ‘hormones’ is a euphemism for ‘I don’t really know’ although there is a little evidence for a corticotropin releasing hormone effect in alopecia areata.

DOB