Hair Loss Can Be a Sign of Increased Stroke Risk

Patchy hair loss is a clue that you could potentially have an increased risk of stroke. A research study done in Taiwan showed a potential association between a condition called alopecia areata and stroke. In this study, individuals with alopecia areata had almost twice the risk of stroke when compared to people who did not have the condition.

Alopecia areata is very different from the usual hair loss patterns and is also much less common than the more prevalent types of hair loss. The hallmark of alopecia areata is bald spots and uneven hair loss.

It does not at all look like the usual male pattern baldness or a receding hairline that some men begin to experience as early as their twenties. Similarly, most women experience some degree of thinning hair, usually starting in the late thirties or early forties, but typically occurring gradually and distributed all over the head.

Brush full of hair
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How to Know If You Have Alopecia Areata

Alopecia means hair loss and areata describes the fact that it occurs in certain concentrated areas. This condition produces sudden bald areas and typically affects young people beginning in their twenties, generally continuing in spurts throughout life. Alopecia areata’s signature small, patchy bald spots can make you self-conscious from a cosmetic standpoint. Usually, the hair grows back, but it might be a slightly different texture, and hair loss can occur again later in the same spots or in different spots.

Stress can cause alopecia areata to act up. It also turns out that, for some people, medical problems such as autoimmune disease and thyroid disease can be responsible for exacerbations of alopecia areata. Patchy hair loss can also result from harsh chemical hair or scalp treatments, so alopecia areata doesn't always mean that you have a medical condition causing your hair loss.

It is important to get a professional medical evaluation to determine the cause, even if you can effectively take care of the cosmetic issues on your own or with the help of your hair stylist.

Male pattern baldness is normally gradual and causes either a circular area of thinning hair at the crown of the scalp and/or a receding hairline at the forehead. Women's hair loss generally produces slowly thinning hair all around the scalp as a result of hair falling out or breaking. Thinning hair in women can be stressful and often limits your hairstyle options, but it is not the same as alopecia areata and it is not associated with increased stroke risk.

The Hair Loss and Stroke Link

Alopecia areata can be associated with other autoimmune diseases as well as thyroid disorders. These same conditions are also known to produce serious alterations in the body's regular physiologic functions and can potentially set the stage for a stroke.

Autoimmune conditions are disorders in which the body’s immune system attacks the body itself. This self-attack can manifest in a number of different ways, whether by attacking hair follicles and producing alopecia areata, or by causing stickiness of blood cells and clot formation, or inflammation of blood vessels in the brain leading to strokes.

How to Lower Your Stroke Risk If You Are Losing Hair

There are a number of effective steps you can take to reduce your risk of stroke if you have alopecia areata. First of all, you should get checked out for the main stroke risk factors, including hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, and high cholesterol.

Secondly, because an autoimmune disease can be associated with alopecia areata, your healthcare provider will probably evaluate you for common indicators of autoimmune disease or thyroid disease, depending on whether you have other symptoms of either disorder. If it turns out that your medical examination or blood tests uncover any abnormalities, there are treatments to manage your underlying problem.

Overall, this possible link between alopecia areata and stroke isn’t a reason for alarm, since these findings still need to be confirmed by further studies. Make sure that you see your healthcare provider regularly for routine physicals so that you can stay healthy for the long run.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Kang JH, Lin HC, Kao S, Tsai MC, Chung SD. Alopecia areata increases the risk of stroke: A 3-year follow-up studySci Rep. 2015;5:11718. doi:10.1038/srep11718

  2. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Hair loss types: Alopecia areata overview.

Additional Reading

By Heidi Moawad, MD
Heidi Moawad is a neurologist and expert in the field of brain health and neurological disorders. Dr. Moawad regularly writes and edits health and career content for medical books and publications.