Hair transplant procedures are generally safe and successful for most people. This includes people with diabetes, but a successful outcome very much depends on whether your diabetes is under control or not. It also depends on what type of diabetes you have. There are a few crucial considerations you need to keep in mind and discuss with your surgeon too, if you’re diabetic and considering a hair transplant.
These considerations include:
With some careful planning and our expert surgeons, you can enjoy a successful hair transplant if you have diabetes. But before we go into these considerations in more detail, let’s first look at why diabetes can affect hair loss.
How Does Diabetes Cause Hair Loss?
Diabetes is a complex condition in which the level of sugar in the blood becomes too high. There are two types – type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is less common than type 2, and is caused by the body’s immune system attacking the cells that produce insulin. It’s usually diagnosed in childhood. Type 2 diabetes usually occurs later in life and is caused by the body not producing enough insulin or not reacting to insulin in the right way.
Insulin is essential to keep blood sugar (glucose) levels under control, so both types can cause dangerous spikes in glucose if they’re not properly controlled by medication and/or diet.
Diabetes related uncontrolled spikes in blood sugar can contribute to hair loss. All of our hormones, including the hormones that control hair growth and the health of the hair follicles are governed by our ‘endocrine system’.
If blood sugar levels are not under control, this can disrupt the endocrine system. This can mean that the ‘androgens’, hormones including testosterone and dihydrotestosterone (another form of testosterone) that affect hair growth, can be disturbed. The result is inactive hair follicles that not only shed their healthy hairs, they stop producing hairs, meaning that you notice bald patches and thinning areas of hair across your scalp.
The good news is, if you get your blood sugar levels under control either through diet or medication, you should start to notice your hair beginning to grow back. A hair transplant in this case is then ideal for helping to increase this growth.
Another reason diabetes can lead to hair loss is due to complications with circulation. If blood sugar levels aren’t under control, and they remain too high, then this excess sugar can react with the haemoglobin found in our red blood cells.
Haemoglobin is responsible for carrying oxygen around our body. If there’s too much sugar, this haemoglobin becomes ‘glycosylated’. This glycosylated haemoglobin is a different shape to normal haemoglobin and can become stuck in our small blood vessels called capillaries. This means that oxygen isn’t transported around the body as well as it should, and different tissues and cells can become starved of oxygen and die. If these cells happen to be hair follicle cells, then the hair follicles will die, causing hairs to fall out.
Getting your blood sugar levels under control is crucial for healthy hair follicles, and the rest of your body.
There is also a risk that those with type 1 diabetes, which is an autoimmune disease, will lose their hair due to their immune system incorrectly attacking healthy cells that it mistakes for unhealthy ones. When this happens to the cells of the hair follicles, it’s known as alopecia areata and can be lead to extreme hair loss. This is more common in those with type 1 diabetes.
Can an Insulin Dependent Type 1 Diabetic Have a Hair Transplant?
In most cases, if you need several daily insulin injections to control your diabetes, which is usually the case with type 1 diabetes, it’s not advisable that you have a hair transplant. It can be a lengthy procedure during which your blood sugar levels may become dangerously unstable.
However, most type 2 diabetics can and do have successful hair transplants.
How Do I Know if my Type 2 Diabetes Will Affect my Hair Transplant?
Before embarking on any hair transplant procedure, our expert surgeons and hair loss specialists will talk with you about your complete medical history. If you’re a type 2 diabetic, there will be some extra steps you’ll need to discuss in order for us to find out your suitability for a hair transplant and what level of success you might receive.
You will need to undergo a specific blood test called an ‘HbA1c’ test before your procedure. As a diabetic, you’re probably familiar with this test. It’s a laboratory test to discover how much glycosylated haemoglobin you have in your blood. This gives a good indication of how well controlled your blood sugar levels are. The higher the result, the less controlled your blood sugar levels are, and the more likely you are to have complications from hair transplant procedures.
We may also take blood samples to test your levels of hormones such as testosterone and dihydrotestosterone that might be affecting your hair loss. Your hormone levels may suggest that a hair transplant will not be successful for you, but our experts will discuss all of that with you.
A hair transplant is a long procedure, often taking six to eight hours. This is a long time and your blood sugar levels need to be taken into account.
The anxiety, adrenaline and long periods of fasting you may experience during a hair transplant procedure can also cause another hormone called ‘glucagon’ to rise. Glucagon works in the opposite way to insulin, by making sure blood sugar levels don’t drop too low. If you’re diabetic and your glucagon levels rise, it can raise your blood sugar levels dangerously high.
If you’re suitable for treatment, we may take routine blood samples throughout your procedure to measure your blood sugar levels to make sure they remain at a normal level.
As you may already be aware, some diabetics have problems with wound healing. Wounds that may heal quickly in someone without diabetes, may take much longer in someone with poorly controlled diabetes. Wounds can also become infected more easily and can lead to necrosis, or death, of the surrounding tissue. This is due to circulatory issues and is particularly problematic in the feet.
The skin of the scalp has an abundant blood supply, and wound healing problems aren’t as common in this area, but they can occur. It’s also less of an issue if you opt for the Follicular Unit Extraction (FUE) method of hair transplantation over the Follicular Unit Transplantation (FUT), or ‘strip harvesting’ method as the wounds are much smaller to begin with. Our surgeons will request to see you more frequently after your procedure to check on your healing if you’re a diabetic, regardless of your chosen method.
As long as your type 2 diabetes is under control, and you trust in our experts to help you manage your condition before, during and after your procedure, you can enjoy the benefits of a hair transplant just like anyone else.
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