A Guide to Alopecia - Hair Loss & Hair Transplant Surgery Guide

So what exactly is alopecia? We’ve mentioned it a lot elsewhere on the site, so maybe it is about time we provided a definitive guide as to what exactly it is. Actually, alopecia has a variety of different forms, describing it is relatively simple: it is hair loss. As a subject for medical research, however, it continually engages and fascinates scientists. The reasons for hair loss can be many and varied, ranging from genetic factors to diet. So it is a topic that deserves some consideration within the broader context of male-pattern baldness.

In this article, we will look more closely at the different types of alopecia and what causes it. For many people, it is a very difficult condition to come to terms with and can cause significant stress and anxiety. Some forms of alopecia are temporary. Others can be treated. Others, quite simply, are just something people have to find a way to live with.

So, alopecia… how common is it?

When you talk about hair loss, people tend to think of middle-aged, balding men. But hair loss in any one of its many forms can affect anyone – in fact, some forms of alopecia affect far more women than men. The condition occurs in people who are, on the whole, healthy and without any other issues surrounding their diet, skin or hair. Estimates currently suggest that it affects around one in every 1000 people. 

So what are the different types of hair loss?

The word ‘alopecia’ was first recorded in the late 1700s, so anxiety about hair loss is not a particularly modern phenomenon! Since then, a number of different forms of alopecia have been identified.

Alopecia Areata

Alopecia Areata is the medical term for hair loss in patches. It usually begins with small areas of hair loss around the size of a coin on the scalp. The cause is thought to be a case of mistaken identity! Scientists have noticed that, in people with alopecia areata, the hair roots become surrounded by white blood cells. White blood cells are normally an important element in our defence against disease. Therefore, scientists assume that our immune system has mistakenly identified the hair follicles as a threat and is sending white blood cells to destroy them.

That’s quite a mistake to make! In around 50% of cases of alopecia areata, the body seems to realise the error of its ways and correct them – resulting in temporary hair loss and re-growth, usually within six months. For many people, a trigger can be identified that causes temporary alopecia – often, these are things like a debilitating virus, or a bout of unusual stress or anxiety. There is also some evidence to suggest that there could be a contributory genetic factor which makes people more prone to the condition – one in four people with alopecia areata also have a relative who suffers in the same way.

Alopecia Totalis

Some people who suffer Alopecia steadily lose hair until their scalp is totally bald. It is a condition that affects both men and women and is known as Alopecia Totalis. As with Alopeica Areata, the follicle is never completely destroyed and has the capability to grow back if given the right sort of stimulus. For many people with the condition, the best solution is to wear a wig until regrowth occurs.

Others try a variety of treatments to re-stimulate the hair follicles, which range from shampoo-style applications to the scalp to acupuncture and electro-therapy. The results are variable and, before embarking on any treatments, it is best to consult your doctor.

Alopecia Universalis

Alopecia Universalis is the medical name for the condition that causes all of the body hair to be lost. This includes eye lashes, eye brows, facial hair such as beards and body hair. With more extensive hair loss, it is less likely that hair will re-grow.

Statistics suggest that around one fifth of people with alopecia areata will develop either alopecia totalis or alopecia universalis. This increase in hair loss is often connected to other aspects. For example, if the condition occurs in childhood, it is more likely to be progressive. Also, if your auto-immune system is stimulated by a different type of disease, alopecia may become more pronounced. Some people who suffer from more extreme versions of alopecia also notice that the quality of their fingernails also deteriorates. 

Even if your hair grows back fully after alopecia areata, many people find that the condition recurs at times during their life. It could be that their body continues to see it as a natural response to times of threat.

Androgenetic Alopecia

Androgenetic Alopecia is also known as Male-Pattern Baldness. We discussed what causes Male-Pattern Baldness in detail elsewhere on the site. The causes of Male-Pattern Baldness are genetic and hormonal.  Therefore, unlike the other forms of alopecia, the hair will not grow back. However, there are medical treatments available, such as Finasteride and Minoxidil, that enable some men to thicken their hair and create the impression of regrowth.

Androgenetic Dependant Alopecia

Androgenetic Dependant Alopecia is also known as Female-Pattern Hair Loss. For women, the pattern of hair loss is slightly different to men and as the follicles are not lost in the same way, is appears less like balding and more like Alopecia Areata. The right diagnosis is therefore important so that the right treatment can be applied. Most GPs can prescribe anti-androgen tablets which can reduce the hair loss.

What is the best thing to do if I am starting to lose my hair?

The best approach is to consult your GP or a trichologist (a specialist in hair loss and hair loss treatments). That way, you know can get an accurate diagnosis and can therefore seek the right kind of treatment. If you choose the wrong kind of treatment, it can not only be a waste of time – it can also be an expensive mistake.

We’ve talked about the different types of alopecia above. However, there are also other types of conditions that can cause hair loss. For example, ringworm can cause hair loss that, initially, looks very similar to Alopecia Areata. Similarly, we know that the thyroid gland is an active component in causing hair loss, and is often cited as the cause of the condition Telogen Effuvium. Finally, women who have just given birth can lose more hair than previously. This is natural, as the growth cycle of the hair slows during pregnancy.

The variety of causes of hair loss means that an accurate diagnosis, leading to an accurate form of treatment, is essential.

Of course, for many people, no treatment as all is their chosen treatment. This is often the case with Male-Pattern Baldness. It is not seen as a debilitating condition, therefore many people choose just to live with it.

Anything else I need to know?

It is important to remember that the majority of people who have alopecia (in any of its forms) are healthy and do not have other contributory diseases. This is one of the reasons why GPs are often reluctant to suggest expensive treatments.

In most cases, hair loss is not a disease but simply a part of the aging process or due to a natural change in hormones. In the past, alopecia has been difficult to research because many patients regain their hair naturally. Therefore, the validity of research and new treatments is easily called into question.