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Alopecia Areata - Symptoms & Treatment

Alopecia areata (AA) is a highly unpredictable, autoimmune skin disease resulting in the loss of hair on the scalp and elsewhere on the body. In most cases, hair falls out in small, round patches about the size of a quarter. In many cases, the disease does not extend beyond a few bare patches. In some people, hair loss is more extensive. Clinically, alopecia areata can present with many different patterns. Although medically benign, alopecia areata can cause tremendous emotional and psychosocial stress in affected patients and their families. Because it causes bald spots on the head especially in the first stages, it is sometimes called spot baldness. In 1-2% of cases, the condition can spread to the entire scalp or to the entire epidermis. In alopecia areata, the affected hair follicles are mistakenly attacked by a person's own immune system (white blood cells), resulting in the arrest of the hair growth stage. Alopecia areata affects both males and females. This type of hair loss is different than male pattern baldness, an inherited condition.

Alopecia areata is common throughout the world. Although not life-threatening, alopecia areata is most certainly life-altering, and its sudden onset, recurrent episodes, and unpredictable course have a profound psychological impact on the lives of those disrupted by this disease. The pathophysiology of alopecia areata remains unknown. In alopecia areata, immune system cells called white blood cells attack the rapidly growing cells in the hair follicles that make the hair. The affected hair follicles become small and drastically slow down hair production. Sometimes, alopecia areata occurs within family members, suggesting a role of genes and heredity. AA spreads out on the edges as it grows, with the hairs on the edges thinning out at the roots until they fall out. Many people with the disease get only a few bare patches. In some cases it is associated with other diseases, but most of the time it is not.

Causes of Alopecia Areata

The common causes and risk factor's of Alopecia Areata include the following:

  • The specific cause of alopecia areata is unknown.
  • An abnormality in the immune system.
  • A family history of alopecia areata.
  • Alopecia areata is sometimes associated with other autoimmune conditions such as allergic disorders, thyroid disease, vitiligo, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and ulcerative colitis.
  • It is also more common in patients with chromosomal disorders such as Down syndrome.
  • Alopecia areata may also occur as alopecia totalis with complete loss of scalp hair or as alopecia universalis with total loss of all body hair.

Symptoms of Alopecia Areata

Some symptoms related to Alopecia Areata are as follows:

  • In its most common form, alopecia areata causes small round or oval patches of baldness on the scalp.
  • The hair stops growing and then falls out from the roots.
  • The nails are affected in about 1 in 5 cases and can become pitted or ridged.
  • Patches of body hair, beard, eyebrows, or eyelashes may be affected in some cases.

Treatment of Alopecia Areata

Here is list of the methods for treating Alopecia Areata:

  • Corticosteroids are powerful anti-inflammatory drugs similar to a hormone called cortisol produced in the body. Because these drugs suppress the immune system if given orally, they are often used in the treatment of various autoimmune diseases, including alopecia areata.
  • Ultraviolet light therapy.
  • A short course of corticosteroids (such as prednisone) by mouth, or rarely, intravenously (through a vein) for adult patients with extensive hair loss.
  • Injections of steroid into the bald patches of the scalp suppresses the local immune reaction that occurs in alopecia areata.
  • Use certain hair care products and styling techniques. Hair care products or perms may make hair appear thicker. Dyes may be used to color the scalp.
  • Cortisone creams are also sometimes beneficial in the treatment of alopecia areata.


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