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Common Diseases > Alopecia

Alopecia simply means the loss of hair from the head or body. It can mean baldness, a term generally reserved for pattern alopecia or androgenic alopecia.

Alopecia has three categories:

  1. Androgenic alopecia – male pattern baldness
     
  2. Alopecia totalis.

    This is when the entire body suffers from complete hair loss, it is also referred to as alopecia universalis. It is similar to the effects that occur with chemotherapy and there is no certain cure.
     
  3. Alopecia Areata

    Alopecia areata is an acquired skin disease that can affect all hair-bearing skin and is characterized by localised areas or even total non-scarring hair loss. It is a hair-loss condition which usually affects the scalp, typically causing one or more patches of hair loss and it can affect both genders.

    For most patients, the condition resolves without treatment within a year, but hair loss is sometimes permanent. In some cases alopecia areata can be seasonal. Generally, hair loss in patches signifies alopecia areata which typically presents with sudden hair loss causing patches to appear on the scalp or other areas of the body.

    If left untreated, or if the disease does not respond to treatment, complete baldness can result resulting in alopecia universalis.  A number of treatments are known to aid in hair re-growth. Multiple treatments may be necessary, and none consistently works for all patients.

    Alopecia areata, as a rule, is rarely associated with any other external or internal medical problems. Most often these bald areas re-grow their hair spontaneously.

    What causes alopecia areata?

    Current evidence suggests that alopecia areata is caused by an abnormality in the immune system. As a result, the immune system attacks particular tissues of the body. In alopecia areata, for unknown reasons, the body's own immune system attacks the hair follicles and disrupts normal hair formation. Alopecia areata can occasionally be associated with other autoimmune conditions such as allergic disorders, thyroid disease, vitiligo, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and ulcerative colitis. The diagnosis or treatment of these diseases is unlikely to affect the course of alopecia areata. Sometimes, alopecia areata occurs within family members, suggesting a role of genes.

    Compulsive pulling of hair (trichotillomania) can also produce hair loss. Hairstyling routines such as tight ponytails or braids may induce Traction alopecia. Both hair relaxer solutions, and hot hair irons can also induce hair loss. In some cases, alopecia is due to underlying medical conditions, such as iron deficiency

    What are the different patterns of alopecia areata?

    The most common pattern is one or more well-defined spots of hair loss on the scalp. There is also a form of more generalized thinning of hair referred to as diffuse alopecia areata throughout the scalp.

    Who is affected by alopecia areata?

    Alopecia areata tends to occur most often in adults 30 to 60 years of age. However, it can also affect older individuals and rarely toddlers. It should be  distinguished from hair shedding that may occur following the discontinuation of hormonal estrogen and progesterone therapies for birth control or the hair shedding associated with the end of pregnancy. There are a number of treatable conditions that could be confused with alopecia areata.

    What is the treatment for alopecia areata?

    There are a variety of treatments depending on the period of time of hair loss and the size area/areas effect. Steroid injections, creams, and shampoos for the scalp have been used for many years and are known to be effective. Advise from your GP or Naturopath should be sought as to what treatment is the right treatment for you.



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