Definition

What is Marie Antoinette syndrome?

Marie Antoinette syndrome refers to a situation where someone’s hair suddenly turns white (canities). The name of this condition comes from folklore about the French queen Marie Antoinette, whose hair supposedly turned white suddenly before her execution in 1793.

Graying of the hair is natural with age. As you grow older, you may start to lose the melanin pigments that are responsible for your hair color. But this condition is not age-related. It’s related to a form of alopecia areata — a type of sudden hair loss. (It’s also important to note that, regardless of whether the stories are true, Marie Antoinette was only 38 years old at the time of her death).

How common is Marie Antoinette syndrome?

Marie Antoinette syndrome is not common. Besides the infamous Marie Antoinette, other famous figures in history have also reportedly experienced sudden changes in their hair color. One notable example is Thomas More, who was said to have experienced a sudden whitening of his hair before his execution in 1535.

A report published in the Archives of Dermatology also notes witness accounts of bombing survivors from World War II experiencing a sudden whitening of the hair. Sudden hair color changes have additionally been noted in literature and science fiction, usually with psychological undertones. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of Marie Antoinette syndrome?

The main symptom of Marie Antoinette syndrome is canities (loss of pigmented hair).

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

Graying hair isn’t necessarily a health concern. However, you might want to make an appointment if you’re also experiencing other symptoms, such as hair loss, bald patches, and rashes.

If you or your loved one has any signs or symptoms listed above or you have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes Marie Antoinette syndrome?

Cases of so-called Marie Antoinette syndrome are often thought to be caused by an autoimmune disorder. Such conditions change the way your body reacts to healthy cells in the body, inadvertently attacking them. In the case of Marie Antoinette syndrome-like symptoms, your body would stop normal hair pigmentation. As a result, though your hair would continue to grow, it would be gray or white in color.

There are other possible causes of premature graying or whitening of the hair that might be mistaken for this syndrome. Consider the following conditions:

Alopecia areata. This is one of the most notable causes of pattern baldness. The symptoms of alopecia areata are thought to be caused by underlying inflammation. This causes the hair follicles to stop new hair growth. In turn, existing hair may also fall out. If you already have some gray or white hairs, the bald patches from this condition can make such pigment losses more apparent. This can also create the impression that you have new pigment loss, when in fact it’s now just more prominent. With treatment, new hair growth can help mask gray hairs, but it can’t necessarily stop your hair from gradually turning gray.

Genes. If you have a family history of prematurely graying hair, chances are that you could be at risk. According to the Mayo Clinic, there’s also a gene called IRF4 that could play a role. A genetic predisposition to graying hair can make it challenging to reverse hair color changes.

Hormonal changes. These include thyroid disease, menopause, and drops in testosterone levels. Your doctor can prescribe medications that can help even out your hormone levels and perhaps stop further premature graying.

Naturally darker hair. Both people of naturally dark and light hair colors are prone to graying. However, if you have dark hair, any form of hair whitening looks more noticeable. Such cases aren’t reversible, but may be managed with all-over hair coloring, as well as touch-up kits. According to the Nemours Foundation, it can take over a decade for all hairs to turn gray, so this is not a sudden event.

Nutritional deficiencies. A lack of vitamin B-12 is particularly to blame. You can help reverse nutrition-related graying by getting enough of the nutrient(s) you’re lacking. A blood test can help confirm such deficiencies. It’s also important to work with your doctor and perhaps a registered dietitian.

Vitiligo. This autoimmune disease causes pigment losses in your skin, where you may have noticeable white patches. Such effects may extend to your hair pigment, making your hair turn gray, too. Vitiligo is difficult to treat, especially in children. Among the options are corticosteroids, surgery, and light therapy. Once treatment stops the depigmentation process, you may notice fewer gray hairs over time.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for Marie Antoinette syndrome?

Please consult with your doctor for further information.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is Marie Antoinette syndrome diagnosed?

Please consult with your doctor for further information.

How is Marie Antoinette syndrome treated?

Till now no treatment is effective to alter or reverse the hair color. Dying is the only option to reduce the embarrassing feeling related to sudden hair graying

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage Marie Antoinette syndrome?

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: March 23, 2018 | Last Modified: March 23, 2018

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