Alopecia Areata is an auto-immune condition which causes sudden, patchy hair loss. Some say the word ‘Alopecia’ comes from the Greek word ‘Alopex’ which can be literally translated as ‘Fox’s disease’ as it implies a similar condition to mange in foxes, a condition in which the hair falls out in patches. Others say ‘Alopecia’ derives from the Greek word ‘Alopekia’ which translates as hair loss. ‘Areata’ is Latin and means ‘occurring in patches’. The patches can vary in size. Some people will have patches that about the size of a large coin, for others it can progress to Alopecia Totalis (total loss of scalp hair) to Alopecia Universalis (total loss of scalp and body hair).
How Alopecia Areata Causes Hair Loss
The hair loss can be extremely sudden, with one or more bald patches appearing overnight or within a couple of days. The patches of baldness make it look like the hair follicles have been destroyed however the follicles are still there but they have become dormant. This is a result of the body’s white blood cells mistakenly attacking the hair follicles. The immune system makes these white blood cells to attack bacteria and viruses, but if you have an auto-immune disease, your immune system mistakes certain parts of your body as foreign. In Alopecia Areata the white blood cells mistakes the hair cells as foreign and surrounds them. This causes mild inflammation which makes the hairs weak and causes them to fall out. Apart from the bald patches, the scalp usually looks healthy. Occasionally there is some redness, mild scaling, mild burning or an itchy feeling on the bald patches.
Who is Affected
The exact number of people who suffer from this condition is unknown. It is estimated that approximately 2 percent of the population worldwide have some kind of Alopecia Areata. The condition can occur at any age but a large number of cases first develop in children and teenagers. In around 6 out of 10 cases the first patch of hair loss develops before the age of 20. Men and women appear to be equally affected.
Why Does Someone Develop Alopecia Areata?
There is still some uncertainty as to why Alopecia Areata or other auto-immune diseases occur. It is thought that something triggers the immune system to react against the body’s own tissues. These triggers can include viruses, infection, medicines, severe stress or other environmental factors. In about 25 per cent of cases there is a genetic link.
Is it Dangerous?
The hair loss itself is not dangerous, however it can be highly distressing for an individual and may lead to anxiety disorders and depression. Stress can exacerbate the hair loss. Those people with Alopecia Areata have a slightly higher than average chance of developing other auto-immune diseases such as thyroid disorders, pernicious anaemia and vitiligo (however most people with Alopecia Areata do not develop any of these other conditions).
Is it Permanent?
As the affected hair follicles are not destroyed, the hair follicles can make hair again if the immune system returns to normal. In some cases there are only one or two small bald patches and these regrow within several months. In others, the patchy baldness may come and go over many months or years. The size of the bald patch(es), and how long they last, varies. For individuals whose immune systems continue to mistake the hair cells as foreign bodies, the hair loss will become more severe and this makes it more likely to be permanent.
Can it be Treated?
The Belgravia Centre has successfully treated early stage or mild Alopecia Areata. A tailored treatment programme will respond best to the individual’s stage of hair loss and will usually include high strength minoxidil alongside a suitable hair growth booster. While doctors will often recommend steroid injections, these are not always effective and involve multiple injections into the scalp. A treatment course based around high strength minoxidil is the most effective treatment for Alopecia Areata although for those with Alopecia Totalis or Alopecia Universalis, regrowth is less likely which is why it helps to seek help as soon as the hair loss starts.
An early diagnosis is important to the effectiveness of treatment so if you have noticed bald patches or any type of hair loss, the best thing to do is see a specialist. Belgravia offers a free consultation, either in one of its Central London-based centres, or via the website. To book an appointment, just call 020 7730 6666 or message thelternatively, complete the online consultation form and a treatment advisor will be in touch over the next two working days.
Alopecia Areata Treatment Successes
“My (bald) patches are almost gone…”
“The regrowth is progressing… Can’t recommend highly enough. Fantastic!”
“The big patch of hair loss has gone and I’ve got my confidence back.”