Lanugo Definition: What Is Lanugo and Why Does It Occur In People With Eating Disorders?

When a baby is in utero, they develop fine white hairs all over their body. These are known as lanugo hairs and they protect the baby’s skin from chafing against the uterus wall or drying out from amniotic fluids. These fine hairs are still present at birth; however, they usually fall out within the days or weeks following and are not a cause for concern.

If you have noticed the growth of lanugo on your own or someone else’s body, it is more than likely an indicator of an underlying eating disorder. The growth of lanugo in adult life is a serious indicator of malnutrition or drastic weight loss. This is something to be concerned about, if in doubt, please get in touch with a medical professional immediately.

Who Can Get Lanugo?

Aside from newborn babies, people with serious eating disorders, especially anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, are known to experience the growth of lanugo hair, mainly on their arms and chest. Although lanugo will not occur in all people with an eating disorder, individuals suffering from extreme cases of anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa are at high risk of lanugo. As a general rule, when people begin to reach a point of emaciation, they will most likely show the growth of lanugo hairs.

What Causes Lanugo in Eating Disorders?

The primary cause of lanugo in people with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa is severe weight loss or emaciation. Severe weight loss results in a dramatic loss of body fat which, subsequently, leaves the body unable to properly maintain adequate body temperature. The growth of a thick layer of fine white hair is the body’s attempt at keeping an individual warm. The layer of hair acts as a blanket, trapping any heat leaving the body before it dissipates.

Can Lanugo be Treated?

Lanugo is a symptom of an underlying condition and does not need to be treated directly. The quickest way for a person to get rid of lanugo is by getting professional treatment for their eating disorder. Lanugo will often go away on its own when the patient in question begins receiving proper medical attention, re-establishes a healthy body weight, and improves their overall mental wellbeing.

Hospital treatment, therapy sessions, nutritional counseling, and some antidepressants are all viable options for treating an eating disorder. If you, or someone you know, are showing symptoms of an eating disorder, it is crucial that you or they seek immediate medical care or advice.

Sources: NCBI, Eating Disorder Expert, Healthline

Photo: Pixabay

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