What is alopecia, its several varieties, what causes it, and how can it be treated?

What is alopecia, its several varieties, what causes it, and how can it be treated?

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Alopecia is another name for hair loss. It doesn’t matter who you are or what gender you are to be affected. Androgenic alopecia is the most prevalent kind of hair loss, affecting 80 million people in the United States. This condition is commonly referred to as “male pattern baldness,” even though it can also affect women. Alopecia areata is a type of hair loss that is caused by an autoimmune condition. At the moment, the only treatment for hair regrowth that has received approval from the FDA for both men and women is minoxidil.

DISCLAIMER

Please contact your healthcare practitioner if you have any questions or concerns regarding your medical condition. The articles on Health Guide are supported by research that has been examined by experts in the field and information obtained from professional medical organizations and government bodies. However, they are not intended to replace the advice, diagnosis, or treatment provided by a qualified medical expert.

Although experiencing hair loss is a natural and unavoidable part of aging, this does not mean that you should be glad about it. Alopecia is the term used in medicine to describe hair loss; however, you might not be aware that there are various distinct forms of hair loss. Each condition has its own unique causes as well as therapies. Continue reading to find out more.

Alopecia: what exactly is it?

The condition is known medically as hair loss and is referred to as alopecia. As a natural and inevitable part of the hair development cycle, each individual sheds between 50 and 100 hairs on a daily basis (Murphrey, 2019). On the other hand, you might have alopecia if you’ve noticed that your hair is getting thinner or if you’ve started to see bald spots (areas where hair no longer grows). Alopecia is a condition that most commonly affects the scalp, but it can also affect hair in other areas of the body, such as the eyebrows and eyelashes.

Alopecia’s reversibility is directly related to the underlying cause of the condition. Loss of hair, despite the fact that it does not pose any health risks, can be upsetting for any gender. Your healthcare practitioner should be informed of your complete medical history as well as all medications that you are currently taking, especially before beginning any treatment for alopecia.

Alopecia's signs and symptoms

Loss of hair manifests itself differently in men and women. Alopecia can cause thinning on the crown of the head or the sides of the scalp in males. Men might also have hair loss at the hairline if the condition is severe enough (receding hairline). A widening part is frequently the first indicator that a woman’s hair is beginning to thin, which typically occurs on the tops of their heads or throughout their hair. In most cases, women do not experience thinning hair or a receding hairline (Phillips, 2017).

What are the root causes of alopecia?

Alopecia can be caused by a wide variety of circumstances, such as genetics, disease, stress, food, drugs, giving birth, and even particular hair care practices.

The most prevalent cause of alopecia is hereditary hair loss that happens naturally with aging; however, other causes include the following (Phillips, 2017):

  • Autoimmune disease – Sometimes the immune system attacks the body, or in this case, its hair follicles (hair-producing cells); this results in a disorder that is known as alopecia areata. Autoimmune disease is characterized by hair loss that occurs in patches rather than in one continuous area.
  • A number of medical diseases fall into this category; two examples are thyroid disease and anemia.
  • Telogen effluvium is another name for temporary hair loss that can result from chronic sickness as well as major surgery, high fevers, severe infections, and other serious conditions.
  • Loss of hair is a side effect of some cancer therapies, including radiation and chemotherapy.
  • Ringworm of the scalp is a fungal illness that, if not treated properly, can cause hair loss and, in extreme cases, even baldness in affected individuals. This condition most commonly affects youngsters.
  • Trichotillomania is a mental disorder in which a person pulls off the hair from their scalp, eyebrows, and eyelashes. This condition is also known as trichotillomania.
  • Alopecia can be caused by hormonal shifts, such as those that occur after childbirth, menopause, or stress.
  • Problems with nutrition such as losing too much weight, having eating disorders, getting too much vitamin A, not getting enough iron (which leads to anemia), and not getting enough protein in your diet can all lead to hair loss.
  • Prescription drugs—Some persons who take prescription drugs, such as birth control pills, blood thinners, retinoids, and certain drugs used to treat arthritis, depression, gout, high blood pressure, and heart problems, may experience hair loss as a side effect.
  • Alopecia can be caused by improper hair care practices, such as the use of high heat on the hair, the use of hair products that include chemicals, or the usage of hairstyles that pull or tug on the hair over an extended period of time.

Alopecia can be in several forms

There are a number of subtypes of alopecia to choose from.

Androgenic alopecia

Androgenic alopecia is the most prevalent kind of alopecia, which is sometimes referred to as genetic thinning or baldness (Al Aboud, 2020). The condition is referred to as “male pattern baldness” or “female pattern baldness,” respectively. Because of this, a significant number of people have a member of their family who also has the illness.

The condition known as androgenic alopecia is most common among Caucasian men. The proportion of people who experience it increases with age: 30% do so by age 30, 40% do so by age 40, and 50% do so by age 50. This form of alopecia affects a smaller percentage of women, namely about 38% of women over the age of 70. (Phillips, 2017).

Alopecia areata

This form of alopecia is an autoimmune condition in which the body attacks its own hair, which can result in one of three distinct patterns of baldness (Lepe, 2020)

  • androgenetic alopecia, 
  • androgenic alopecia, or 
  • androgenetic alopecia.

Alopecia areata patchy is characterized by circular areas of baldness on the scalp as well as other parts of the body.

Alopecia totalis refers to a condition in which all of the hair on the scalp is lost.

Alopecia Universalis is the total and complete loss of hair on the body.

It is not completely understood what causes a person’s immune system to attack their hair follicles; nonetheless, it is highly likely that a confluence of genetic and environmental variables is to blame. According to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation (NAAF), one of the hypotheses regarding the cause of alopecia areata is that individuals who carry the genes for the condition are subjected to something that sets off the disease and results in hair loss. Regrettably, these precipitating factors are not completely understood (NAAF, n.d.).Alopecia areata is a condition that can either get better on its own or be treated to make it better; it has an unpredictable pattern of coming and going, which can be distressing for people who have this ailment. Although most patients with alopecia areata are otherwise healthy, the condition is linked to a number of other autoimmune disorders, including thyroid disease, celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, vitiligo, and type 1 diabetes (Jabbari, 2013).

Cicatricial alopecia

Scarring alopecia, also known as cicatricial alopecia, is caused by inflammation, which leads to the death of hair follicles and their replacement with scar tissue. Scar tissue prevents the normal growth of hair, which results in the appearance of a bald area. This can be brought on by a number of skin conditions, such as lupus or folliculitis (which refers to inflammation of the hair follicles) (Phillips, 2017).

Telogen effluvium

Sometimes a health condition or a drug that you are taking can cause a disruption in the normal cycle of hair growth. When this occurs, an excessive number of hairs enter the phase of dormancy known as telogen, and then a few months later, they all fall out at the same time.

There are a number of situations that can lead to telogen effluvium, including a severe chronic illness, pregnancy, surgery, a severe infection, or issues related to the endocrine system (hormones). Certain drugs, including those used to treat acne, seizures, thyroid conditions, and blood pressure, can occasionally cause this type of hair loss as an unwanted side effect. If you suffer from this condition, you might not realize that your hair is falling out in clumps until several months have passed since the sickness or pharmaceutical use. Fortunately, after the underlying problem has been fixed, hair will typically begin to grow again (Phillips, 2017).

Tinea capitis

Tinea capitis is an infectious fungal ailment that can spread from person to person through contact with contaminated items such as hats, brushes, and other similar items. If the infection is not treated, it will seep into the hair follicles and cause itching as well as hair loss. If it is not treated, it might induce balding. Tinea capitis is most commonly seen in children (Phillips, 2017).

Alopecia caused by traction

Traction alopecia is the medical term for hair loss that can occur as a result of using hairstyles that pull on the hair. This disorder is more common in African American women, and certain hairstyles, including braiding and tight ponytails, are among the factors that can contribute to its development. The treatment comprises refraining from the use of hairstyles with high levels of tension (Billero, 2018).

Trichotillomania

Trichotillomania is a condition of impulse control in which sufferers are unable to stop pulling their hair out. People tend to pull hair out of their scalps when they shave or wax, but occasionally they also target the hair in their eyebrows, eyelashes, or other parts of their bodies. It appears that many of the hairs in the thinning areas are broken. Medication and therapy are frequently used in conjunction with one another in treatment. Trichotillomania affects approximately 4% of the American population, most commonly young children and teenagers (Phillips, 2017).

The methods used to cure alopecia

Because there are many different forms and causes of alopecia, there are also many different treatment choices. In order to determine the reason behind your hair loss, your primary care physician or a dermatologist may need to conduct additional tests on either your hair or scalp. Finding out what caused your alopecia is the first step in developing an effective treatment strategy.

There are several therapies available, and your healthcare professional will be able to assist you in determining which ones are appropriate for you—some individuals wind up requiring a mix of treatments. Alopecia can be treated with a variety of drugs, some of which are available without a doctor’s prescription and others that require one (Donovan, 2021):

  • Minoxidil, sold under the trade name Rogaine, is an over-the-counter treatment for androgenic alopecia that has been approved by the FDA for both men and women to reduce the amount of hair loss and accelerate the growth of new hair. The medication is administered directly to the scalp.
  • Finasteride, also known by its brand name Propecia and as Important Safety Information, is a medicine available only with a doctor’s prescription that has been approved by the FDA to treat men with androgenic alopecia, decrease the progression of hair loss and accelerate the growth of new hair. It achieves its effect by inhibiting the production of the hormone known as dihydrotestosterone (DHT) in males. Women who are pregnant should avoid coming into contact with any broken pills.
  • Immunosuppressants: If inflammation is one of the factors that led to your alopecia, your healthcare practitioner may offer immunotherapy drugs to reduce your body’s ability to attack its own hair follicles. These medications are known as immunosuppressants. Corticosteroids, methotrexate, sulfasalazine, and cyclosporine are all examples of medications that belong to this class (Lepe, 2020).
  • Scalp sensitizers are a series of drugs that include anthralin and diphencyprone (DPCP), and they work by inducing a specific form of inflammation of the skin (dermatitis) of the scalp in order to guide the immune system of the body in a different direction (Spano, 2015).

There are medical therapies available, but there are also operations that can help restore hair. One of the options is hair transplantation, which involves moving scalp skin from sections of the scalp that still have healthy hair development to areas of the scalp that are balding. In addition, there is a low-level laser device that has been approved by the FDA, which has the potential to stimulate hair growth in some individuals (Donovan, 2021).

Last but not least, it is possible to cover up hair loss with non-medical methods such as wigs, hairpieces, scarves, shaving, and other similar practices. Consult with your healthcare practitioner to determine which hair loss treatment alternatives are appropriate for you so that you may move forward with therapy.

How to reduce the risk of alopecia

It’s possible that you have little influence over the reasons for your alopecia, such as genetics, an autoimmune disease, or illness. Nevertheless, there are things you may do to try to avoid more hair loss, including the following:

  • In order to prevent hair loss and harm to the hair follicles, you should steer clear of harsh chemicals and bleaching (Bloch, 2019).
  • If you want to avoid the possibility of getting traction alopecia, you should avoid hairstyles that contain tight braids.
  • Consume a diet that is nutritious, well-balanced, and abundant in fruits, vegetables, and lean sources of protein.
  • Try not to brush your hair too vigorously.
  • Put an end to utilizing high heat on your hair because it causes it to become dry and brittle and also causes harm to the follicles.

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