What is Alopecia? Alopecia, in its most general definition, is the loss of hair. Many forms of alopecia include temporary hair loss or thinning of the hair and are caused by a number of factors, including diet, trauma to the hair follicles, illness, medications, and so on. The two main types of permanent alopecia are alopecia areata and androgenetic alopecia. With alopecia areata, hair falls out in spots all over the body. This form of alopecia occurs mostly in men and women over the age of 30 but in rare cases may affect children and teenagers. Androgenetic alopecia is what most people commonly call male pattern hair loss or woman diffuse hair loss and occurs only on the head. In men, hair loss occurs gradually beginning at the temples (usually forming an M as the hair line recedes) and crown of the skull. In women, hair becomes thinner around the whole scalp but rarely results in complete baldness.
What causes Alopecia?
Common forms of temporary alopecia are caused by a variety of factors. Malnutrition, trauma to the hair follicles from excessive styling (hot irons, relaxers, etc) illnesses such as diabetes and lupus, and medications such as chemotherapy are common causes of temporary alopecia. In most cases, if the contributing factor is eliminated, hair will begin to grow normally again.
Alopecia areata is currently thought to be caused by an abnormality in the body’s immune system. This abnormality leads to autoimmunity which basically means the body’s immune system starts to attack itself. In cases of alopecia areata, the immune system attacks random hair follicles and causes a disruption in normal hair formation. This disruption leads to spots or patches of hair falling out on the body or head.
Androgenetic alopecia affects both men and women, though it is most common in men. Although many factors that contribute to this form of alopecia are yet unknown, researchers believe pattern hair loss is related to hormones called androgens, specifically dihydrotestosterone or DHT. These androgens have important functions in male and female hair growth regulation but the problem occurs when there is too high of a concentration of DHT in the scalp. When this happens, the DHT attaches to androgen receptors on the hair follicles and blocks them from going through normal hair growth cycles. This, in turn, causes the hair follicles to shrink. Over time hair becomes shorter and thinner until, eventually, the follicle does not grow a new hair, resulting in what is known as pattern baldness.
Common treatments of alopecia:
Treatment for alopecia depends on what form you have. Many temporary forms of alopecia do not require any treatment and hair will usually grow back on its own. Treatment for alopecia areata may vary depending on the severity of the condition. In occurrences where hair loss is not widespread, hair may grow back on its own with no need for treatment. The more severe the hair loss, the less likely hair is to grow back, but common treatments include: steroid injections under the skin, topical corticosteroids, topical immunotherapy, topical minoxidil (Rogaine), and ultraviolet light therapy. The only medical treatments for androgenetic alopecia that have proven to show results in hair regrowth are minoxidil (Rograine) for men and women and finasteride (Propecia) for men. It should be noted that both Rograine and Propecia are lifelong treatments.