Fibromyalgia is a disorder that possibly afflicts up to 1.79 million people the UK, and an estimated 1 in 20 people worldwide. It causes a wide range of symptoms, but the most significant is chronic pain distributed all over the patient’s body. Other symptoms include irritable bowel syndrome, insomnia, headaches and muscle stiffness.
Another symptom, albeit less common than the others, is hair loss. As journalist Adrienne Dellwo, who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2006, explains, “Every time I washed my hair, the tub was covered in [hair]…. I’ve lost enough hair in a short enough period before that my hair got noticeably thinner. Then, as lots of new hair grew in, all the short ones made it look like my hair was all damaged and broken off, which it wasn’t. Now I’m keeping my hair shorter so the grow-out isn’t as obvious.”
A causal link?
So how can a neurological disorder lead to hair loss? The difficulty is that nobody knows precisely what causes fibromyalgia itself; so it is hard to identify the connection between mechanisms that cause long-term pain and other neurological problems, and shedding or thinning hair.
Many people who experience the condition believed the hair loss to be stress related. Adrienne Dellwo highlights this probable link, saying “Since stress can cause hair loss as well, I have to wonder if it’s connected to the disruptions in our stress-response system. Whatever the cause, the good news is that it’s temporary hair loss – the follicles don’t stop producing hair as in male pattern baldness or the autoimmune disease Alopecia. The hair falls out, then a new one grows in.”
Telogen Effluvium – the likely culprit
Although Telogen Effluvium – where the hair follicles go into a prolonged resting state in response to stress – is less common than other causes of hair loss, it is possible appear that it could be the underlying cause in this case. Bouts of heightened stress often cause fibromyalgia; and the pain and sleep loss the syndrome causes often results in yet more worry and concern. Fortunately, though, the hair loss caused by Telogen Effluvium is usually temporary; the important thing is to remove the original cause of stress. Once this is done, the hair follicles will usually re-enter the anagen (or growth phase) of their own accord. However, if the hair does not grow back over longer periods, another condition may be the cause.