Kidney Disease and Hair Loss: 7 Things To Know

Medically reviewed by Sarika Chaudhari, M.D., Ph.D.
Written by Sarah Winfrey
Posted on December 15, 2023

If you're losing your hair and you think it’s because of chronic kidney disease (CKD), you aren’t alone! Some people find hair loss is a significant symptom of their kidney disease.

There are many ways that kidney disease can lead to hair loss. Some are specific to different types of kidney disease, while others pertain to kidney diseases more generally. Here’s what you need to know if you're experiencing hair loss and you’ve been diagnosed with a kidney disease.

1. Many People With Kidney Disease Notice Hair Loss

One study of 101 people who were on dialysis for end-stage kidney disease (also called end-stage renal disease) reported that almost 10 percent experienced hair loss. This is a small study, and very little research on people with kidney disease and hair loss has been done to follow up on these numbers.

However, this study does seem to indicate a connection between hair loss and kidney disease, especially late-stage kidney disease, for some people. If you believe your hair loss is tied to your kidney disease, it’s time to talk to your doctor.

2. Hair Loss Can Be Caused by a Lack of Nutrients — Or an Excess

Several vitamins and minerals can influence hair health, and a lack of them can lead to hair loss in some situations. Nutrients that may influence hair loss include selenium, zinc, iron, and vitamins A, B, C, D, and E. Kidney diseases can cause a nutritional deficiency when the kidneys or digestive tract cannot process or store nutrients as usual. You may also have a less nutritious diet because of a lack of appetite. Vitamins and minerals can also be lost during dialysis or in urine due to the action of certain medications.

The body only stores small amounts of riboflavin, a form of vitamin B, and some of that is stored in the kidneys. Vitamin D is processed by the kidneys into the form that the body commonly uses. Because the kidneys are key to helping the body use these vitamins, it follows that reduced kidney function or kidney damage could interrupt the natural processes surrounding them. If your body is not storing enough riboflavin or processing vitamin D properly, it may not have what it needs to keep your hair healthy and hair loss can follow.

However, it is very important to remember that damaged kidneys cannot easily remove waste or an excess of vitamins and supplements. Some studies suggest that excessive intake of some vitamins and minerals can create harmful levels in the blood of people with CKD. Excessive buildup of selenium, vitamin A, and vitamin E have all been linked to hair loss in studies.

3. Replacing Vitamins and Minerals Through Diet and Supplements May Help

There's a small chance that replacing any vitamins you're deficient in may help stop or reverse your hair loss. Some research suggests that, for people with low vitamin D levels, taking supplements may help them with hair loss. However, this research was not done specifically for people with kidney disease.

Supplementing missing vitamins and minerals may not help if your kidneys aren’t working well. If they need to process the vitamin in some way and they can’t do that, then taking supplements may only tax your body. A buildup of supplements your kidneys can’t remove can also have other dangerous health effects.

More research is needed to determine whether supplementation works to help with hair loss, how much of each vitamin you need to get each day, and whether supplementation works for people who are living with kidney disease.

If you're interested in changing your diet or taking supplements to help with your hair loss, talk to your health care provider first. They can recommend dietary changes or supplements in a way that is safe for your body with kidney disease.

4. Severe Itching (and Scratching) May Lead To Hair Loss

One relatively common side effect of kidney disease is moderate to severe itching. This happens when your kidneys can’t remove enough waste products from your body. They build up in the bloodstream, and this can lead to serious itching.

Sometimes, severe itching on your scalp can be related to hair loss. Hair may be pulled out when you scratch your scalp. If your hair is weakened because of a mineral deficiency, it may break off even easier than it usually would.

If you're scratching your head so much that you notice hair coming out in your hands, see your doctor right away. They may be able to help you reduce the itching and let your scalp rest.

5. Lack of Protein May Cause Hair Loss

Proteins are necessary for hair growth. People with many kidney diseases, including complement 3 glomerulopathy (C3G) and IgA nephropathy (IGAN), are often encouraged to limit their protein intake because their kidneys can’t process protein efficiently. Proteins can build up in the body and increase the load on the kidneys.

However, if protein levels drop too much, this can lead to protein malnutrition — which has been linked with hair loss. Some amino acids (small components of protein) may even help to process other vitamins and minerals from the digestive tract. For people with kidney disease, it can be tricky to maintain adequate levels of protein. Talk to your doctor if you experience hair loss and you’re uncertain whether you’re getting the right amount of protein.

6. Your Hair Loss Might Not Be Related to Kidney Disease

Even though kidney disease can cause hair loss, yours might also be caused by something else. Hair loss can have a wide variety of causes, including:

  • Aging
  • Family history of hair loss
  • Stressful events
  • Certain medications
  • Hairstyles that pull on the hair
  • Hair treatments
  • Changes in hormones, including pregnancy, giving birth, and menopause
  • Genetic conditions
  • Scalp infections, like ringworm

If you haven’t experienced hair loss due to kidney disease before and your kidney disease is under control, something else could be causing you to lose your hair. Talk to your doctor to determine what you should be tested for and how you can best limit, stop, and reverse your hair loss.

7. Treating Kidney Disease May Help Hair Loss

When hair loss is caused by another medical condition, like kidney disease, the first step to treating the hair loss is typically treating the underlying medical condition that caused it. The treatment option that will work best for you will depend on the kidney disease you're living with and your current level of kidney health.

Thus, if you notice new hair loss or your hair loss returns or gets worse, it’s time to talk to your nephrologist as well as your general physician. When your kidneys are functioning well, you have the best chance of getting your body what it needs so you can stop hair loss and give your hair a chance to grow back.

Note that getting treatment for kidney disease may not stop the loss of your hair. If the loss does stop, your hair may not grow back, or it may not grow back the way it was before. If this happens to you, you can talk to your doctor again.

You may need additional treatments to stop your hair loss. It might be caused by something unrelated to your kidney disease, or your hair might need extra encouragement to grow back. You and your doctors can work together to ensure that your kidney disease is treated and the health of your hair is prioritized.

Talk With Others Who Understand

At MyKidneyDiseaseCenter, the site for people with kidney disease and their loved ones, people come together to gain a new understanding of kidney disease and share their stories with others who understand life with this condition.

Are you concerned about kidney disease and hair loss? Share your questions or your experience in the comments below.

Posted on December 15, 2023
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Sarika Chaudhari, M.D., Ph.D. completed her medical school and residency training in clinical physiology at Government Medical College, Nagpur, India. Learn more about her here
Sarah Winfrey is a writer at MyHealthTeam. Learn more about her here

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