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A description of hair loss disease alopecia areata

A final note about treatments What is alopecia areata and who is affected? Alopecia means loss of hair or baldness.

  1. A dermatologist may prescribe one or more of the following to help the hair re-grow more quickly. The most common form of alopecia areata treatment is the use of corticosteroids, powerful anti-inflammatory drugs that can suppress the immune system.
  2. It can also develop slowly, and recur after years between instances. Causes The condition occurs when white blood cells attack the cells in hair follicles, causing them to shrink and dramatically slow down hair production.
  3. They also are looking at lasers and other light-based therapies.
  4. However, other types of diseases can also cause hair to fall out in a similar pattern.

There are a few different ways it can affect people, but the most common is small patches of hair loss, like circles, appearing on the scalp: There are other types, like alopecia totalis, where all the hair on the head is lost; there is also something called alopecia universalis, where all the hair on the body including the eyebrows, groin area and under the arms disappears.

But these are rare. In the UK, alopecia areata is estimated to affect about 15 in 10,000 people. Most family doctors will have seen at least one case, and you probably know of a friend or family member who has had it.

Men and women are equally affected. The condition tends to be milder if it comes on at an older age. A relative, friend or hairdresser may be the first person to notice the bald patch or patches. Apart from the patch, the scalp usually looks healthy and there is no scarring. Occasionally, there is some mild redness, mild scaling, mild burning or a slightly itchy feeling on the bald patches, but usually the person doesn't feel anything. What does alopecia areata look like?

The typical pattern is for one or more bald patches to appear on the scalp.

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These tend to be round in shape and about the size of a large coin. They develop quite quickly. Often the person with it hasn't noticed it at all, particularly if they have long hair which is covering the bald patch.

This photo shows a typical patch of alopecia areata on the back of a young man's head: Alopecia areata on the back of the head By Abbassyma at English Wikipedia via Wikimedia Commons This photo shows a patch of hair loss on a woman's head: The following are the main ways it may progress: Quite often the bald patch or patches regrow hair within a few months. If hair grows back, it may not have its usual colour at first and look grey or white for a while.

The usual colour eventually returns after several months. Sometimes one or more bald patches develop a few weeks after the first one. Sometimes the first bald patch is regrowing hair whilst a new bald patch is developing. It can then appear as if small bald patches rotate around different areas of the scalp over time. Sometimes several small bald patches develop and merge into a larger bald area.

Alopecia areata

Patches of body hair, beard, eyebrows or eyelashes may be affected in some cases, but this is unusual. Large bald patches develop in some people. Some people lose all their scalp hair.

  • Alopecia areata is rare before 3 years of age;
  • Certain hairstyles and treatments;
  • Apart from the patch, the scalp usually looks healthy and there is no scarring.

This is called alopecia totalis. This is very rare though. In a small number of cases, all scalp hair, body hair, beard, eyebrows and eyelashes are lost. This is called alopecia universalis.

Again, this is very rare.

What's to know about alopecia areata?

The nails are affected in about 1 in 10 cases and can become pitted or ridged. This photo shows a patch of hair loss in the beard area of a young man: Alopecia areata in the beard area By XxRoxettexX Own work via Wikimedia Commons Understandably most people with alopecia areata become self-conscious, anxious or distressed by the appearance of the hair loss.

It can help a lot though to stay calm and stay positive because the hair regrows by itself in almost all cases. What causes alopecia areata? Alopecia areata is called an 'autoimmune disease'. This is one of those annoying conditions where the body's immune system, which usually fights off germs, accidentally attacks itself. So tiny cells in the immune system, called T cells, gather around the base of a hair follicle and try to kill it.

This causes the hair to fall out. But at some point the immune attack must come to an end and the hair grows back.

Alopecia areata can be triggered by a recent illness, like a viral infection, or by taking certain medications for other medical conditions. Some people can link the onset of their alopecia to a stressful life event, but many can't.

Sometimes it seems to run in families and it has been known to come on in twins at the same time. More often than not, no cause is found at all.

If you have alopecia areata you also have a slightly higher-than-average chance of developing other autoimmune diseases such as thyroid disorderspernicious anaemia and vitiligo.

  • Dermatologists believe this allergic reaction tricks the immune system, causing it to send white blood cells to the surface of the scalp;
  • What are the treatment options for alopecia areata?

Your doctor may wish to check for these if there are any signs of them along with the hair loss. Do I need any tests? The diagnosis is usually based on the typical appearance of the bald patches.

If there is doubt about the cause of the hair loss, sometimes some blood tests or a skin scraping from a bald patch may be done to rule out other causes.

A small sample of skin skin biopsy is sometimes taken to look at under the microscope. Occasionally you may need some tests to check for other autoimmune diseases.

For example, if you have certain other symptoms, you might need to have blood tests to check your blood count and thyroid function. Usually blood tests come back entirely normal with alopecia areata. What is the outlook for people with alopecia areata? Thankfully, mild cases of alopecia areata often get better without treatment within a few months to a year. In some cases, patchy baldness may come and go over many months or years.

The size of the bald patch or patches and how long they last are quite variable. With more extensive hair loss, it is less likely that hair will regrow. However, even if your hair grows back fully after an episode of alopecia areata, it is common to have one or more recurrences of the condition throughout your life.

A few people who develop alopecia areata will progress to total scalp baldness alopecia totalis.

Alopecia Areata

Even fewer people will lose all scalp and body hair alopecia universalis. Progression to these more extensive types of hair loss is more common if: The bald patches start in childhood. The initial bout of hair loss affects more than half of your scalp. You have a family history of alopecia areata. You have hair loss around the scalp margin. You have nail changes. You have another autoimmune disease.

Your Hair and Scalp Can Say a Lot About Your Health

Treatment can promote hair regrowth in some cases. What are the treatment options for alopecia areata? Understandably, hair loss is upsetting. Particularly in young women. So there are plenty of private clinics out there who will promise 'instant hair regrowth'.

Before trying a private treatment, it might be worth getting an impartial opinion from a doctor in a state-funded system like the NHS. Not treating is a common option In many cases, bald patches regrow by themselves without treatment. In particular, if there are just one or two small bald patches then many doctors would advise that you simply leave it alone at first. If the hair loss is not too bad then there is a good chance that your hair will regrow after several months.

A change in hairstyle may perhaps conceal one or two small bald patches. If the hair loss becomes more extensive then the decision on whether to treat can be reconsidered. But even with extensive hair loss, there is still a chance that hair will regrow without treatment.

  • Alopecia affects both men and women equally;
  • What is alopecia areata?
  • The skin reaction seems to affect the process involved in causing alopecia areata in some way to allow hair to regrow;
  • A 2008 meta-analysis of oral and topical corticosteroids, topical ciclosporin, photodynamic therapy, and topical minoxidil showed no benefit of hair growth compared with placebo, especially with regard to long-term benefits;
  • Despite what many people think, there is very little scientific evidence to support the view that alopecia areata is caused by stress;
  • There is no point continuing with this treatment if you do not develop any regrowth after 3-6 months.

When considering any treatment choices, you should take into account the possible side-effects that some of the treatments may have. Also, treatments promote hair to regrow and do not affect or cure the underlying cause of the condition. Steroid injections Injections of steroid into the bald patches of the scalp can in theory suppress the local immune reaction that occurs in alopecia areata. This can then allow the hair follicles to function normally again for hair to regrow.

This treatment may be an option for one or more small- to medium-sized bald patches. Steroid injections are thought to be the most effective treatment for patches of alopecia areata that are not too big.

What Is Alopecia Areata and How Do I Treat It?

However, they do not work in every case. This treatment is usually only done by a skin specialist and referral to hospital will usually be needed.

What is alopecia areata and who is affected?

Several injections about 1 cm apart are usually given at each session of treatment but the number is often limited by pain. Therefore, large bald areas are not suitable for steroid injections.

It takes 1-2 months for the hair to start to regrow. Injections are repeated every 4-6 weeks. Topical steroids Rub-on topical steroid creams or gels may help hair regrowth but do not work as well as steroid injections. It may be worth a try if you have bald patches that are not suitable for steroid injections, or if you are waiting to see a specialist to have steroid injections.