Marie Antoinette Syndrome & 6 rare causes for hair whitening

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What is Marie Antoinette Syndrome?

Marie Antoinette syndrome or canities subita is a condition in which scalp hair suddenly turns white. Marie Antoinette Syndrome derives its name from the first woman to exhibit and experience these symptoms, Marie Antionette. In this article, we will discuss Marie Antionette and her death, her sudden whitening of hair , possible medical causes for hair whitening, diagnosis, symptoms, and treatments for Marie Antionette syndrome.

Who is Marie Antoinette?

Marie Antoinette painting picture before she die

Born with the name Maria Antonia Josepha Joanna but better known as Marie Antoinette, she was the last queen of France. This German-born Austrian queen consort of King Louis XVI played a significant part in the events leading to the French Revolution. Thus, causing the overthrow of the monarchy in 1792. She was a consort to Louis XVI. She was known for her courtly extravagance, a part of French financial disorders in the period. Her rejection of reform provoked unrest and rebellion. 

How did Marie Antoinette die?

Indicted in August 1793, months after the execution of Louis XVI during the French Revolution, she spent over two months in prison before trial and execution on 16 October 1793 by guillotine at the age of 38.

While in prison, she was kept away from her children and in a very dirty cell. The letter she wrote to Elizabeth was never delivered. 

How did Marie Antionette Syndrome start?

The name comes from a story where Marie Antoinette’s hair allegedly turned white the night before her execution. The actual occurrence is rare, but the phenomenon has a lot of mythical and historical mentions. For example, the hair of Sir Thomas More turned white overnight in the Tower of London before his execution. Or turning the color of hair in World War II survivors. 

Medical Causes for Marie Antionette

Although not definitive, some possible causes of hair whitening are:

  • Alopecia areata: It is one of the most important reasons. The symptoms are caused by underlying inflammation, which prevents hair follicles from growing new hair. Hair loss may occur, which can cause the enhanced sight of the already existing grey hair. 
  • Genes: A family history of early graying hair can be a cause too. Genetic dispositions make the reversal of color change more difficult.
  • Hormones: Hormones like thyroid, estrogen, and testosterone play a role in hair growth and development. When these hormones are on the low, hair whitening and weakening can occur. Correction of these levels can prevent and reverse graying.
  • Nutrition: Lack of vitamins, especially vitamin B12, can cause premature graying of hair. Correct diet and supplements (if necessary) can correct the damage.
  • Vitiligo: It is an autoimmune disease that causes loss of pigments in the skin. It can be generalized or patchy. If it extends to the hair, it can cause premature graying. It is difficult to treat. Treatment options include corticosteroids, surgery, and light therapy. 
Non-segmental vitiligo of the hand
Non-segmental vitiligo of the hand

Symptoms

Sudden and permanent whitening of hair on the head and other body parts is characteristic of Marie Antoinette syndrome. It spans across all the age groups and can be generalized or patchy. The onset can be gradual, as well.

Diagnosis

If the appearance of white hair is sudden, it may be apparent to the patient and the doctor as well. It is the most common presenting complaint. Other symptoms, such as hair loss and skin discoloration, can also occur. The diagnosis is mostly clinical, and the rest revolves around patient history.

The doctor then investigates to determine the possible causes of hair-whitening. And rules out conditions such as alopecia and vitiligo.

Currently, there are no imaging or biochemical studies to find the cause of hair whitening. The diagnosis is, therefore, made by ruling out other possible causes.

To do so, some of the most standard tests done are:

  • Hormone and thyroid levels 
  • Blood counts, electrolytes, and chemistry 
  • Inflammatory or other specific markers for autoimmune diseases

Treatment

If the premature graying of hair is due to some underlying conditions, the treatment is specific to the said condition. For example, if it is alopecia, treatments with steroids and anti-inflammatory drugs may be the choices. If the hair changes occur as a part of aging, it can be dealt with a number of cosmetic products. Available for both hair color and thickness. Hair dyes are either permanent or semi-permanent. The choice is entirely dependent on the person.

Despite the oddness of this condition, gray hair is relatively common and often not taken seriously by most people. They simply dye the hair and not bother to look into the underlying cause.


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