Alopecia – Causes And Treatments

Alopecia is a hair loss condition, known as Alpopecia Areata, which usually affects the scalp and causes patches of hair loss, or complete hair loss. The cause of Alopecia Areata is believed to be an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks the natural growth of hair follicles, and is a disease that affects both males and females. In most cases the condition clears up without treatment, usually within a year, but sometimes hair loss can be permanent.

The Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew, 1634 by peromaneste, on Flickr

Although a number of treatments exist to aid regrowth, none of which consistently work for all patients, some patients have found success with the use of multiple treatments, but caution has to be exercised when choosing specific treatments as many treatments promoted for hair loss have not proven to be beneficial.

What is Alopecia?

It is an acquired skin disease that can affect all hairy skin, characterized by hair loss in localized areas, and is rarely associated with other internal or external medical problems. Often bald areas tend to spontaneous regrowth of hair. There exists a significant tendency to ancestral hereditary as the disease is often found to occur within the members of a family. Alopecia is rarely found in children younger than 3 years old, occurring most often in adults 30 to 60 years of age.

What is the cause of Alopecia?

Autoimmunity is currently believed to be the cause of Alopecia, an abnormality which is the result of a misguided immune system, prone to attacking its own host, the body. In Alopecia, for example, the immune system attacks particular tissues such as hair follicles, which disrupts normal hair growth. A biopsy of the skin on the scalp will show the penetration into the hair bulb of follicles by lymphocytes produced by the immune system.

Occasionally, Alopecia Areata is associated with other autoimmune diseases such as Lupus, Vitiligo, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Ulcerative Colitis and Thyroid Disease. However, treatment of the above mentioned diseases is normally ineffective in halting the course of Alopecia Areata.

What are the symptoms of Alopecia?

The most common symptoms of Alopecia are found in patterns of well-defined areas of hair loss, or diffused Alopecia, which is a generalized thinning of the hair growth throughout the scalp.

Alopecia Totalis refers to a condition where all the hair on the scalp is lost, and Alopecia Universalis refers to the loss of hair from the entire skin surface of the body.

Alopecia is often confused with a number of other treatable conditions and should be clearly distinguished from shedding of the hair that often occurs after discontinuation of progesterone or estrogen birth control therapies, or hair loss after birth.

What is the diagnosis of Alopecia?

A well-defined area or several areas of hairless skin in an area with normal hair growth. A biopsy of the scalp is often performed to confirm the diagnosis. Other symptoms are the appearance of hair stubs which represent hair fractures, gray hair in the balding area, yellowing of the skin at the follicular orifice, thin and short hairs.

Treatments for Alopecia Areata

A variety of treatments exist, however, none can be predicted to have a positive impact on the course of the disease. The longer the existence of hair loss and the larger the area of hair loss that is involved, the less likelihood of hair regrowth. Because the course of the disease is so unpredictable, a high likelihood of spontaneous remission exists.

Typical treatments include steroid injections, steroidal creams and shampoos such as clobetasol or Clobex, and fluocinonide or Lidex are prescribed for use on the scalp.

Although there is no known method that is effective in the prevention of Alopecia, emotional stress elimination may be helpful. As with most chronic diseases where no single remedy seems to be effective, a variety of remedies are often used, sometimes with no benefit at all. Hair products and drugs are not associated with the onset of Alopecia Areata, a complex condition which needs much more research before an effective cure can be found.

An important aspect of patient management in Alopecia Areata, although not a precise treatment in and of itself, is the consideration of cosmetic camouflage, to deal with the devastating emotional and psychological effect that significant hair loss can have on both men and women. Sometimes the reduction of stress can result in spontaneous re-growth of lost hair in Alopecia sufferers.