Psychogenic alopecia refers to a type of hair loss
with psychological causes and is often considered to be a compulsive disorder.
Whilst rare, it is most commonly found in cats, though it may also present in humans.
Psychological effects of hair loss
A 2008 study by the Italian Orthodermic Institute in Rome explored the psychological effects of hair loss in 29 human volunteers with widespread thinning hair described as 'more marked in the "front median" area'. This suggests a similar pattern to that seen in cases of hereditary hairloss - Male Pattern Baldness
and Female Pattern Hair Loss
The study aimed to evaluate the possibility that psychological factors could potentially cause or be involved in the development and persistence of hair loss. Through psychodiagnostic evaluation researchers found that 27 of the 29 participants 'showed the presence of depressive symptoms.'
This lead study author, Daniele Campo to conclude, 'This study underlines how psychic aspects can play a decisive role in the genesis and persistence of hair loss, prompting us to hypothesise a new nosographic entity that can be called psychogenic alopecia'.
What this essentially means is that the findings suggest pyschogenic alopecia should officially be established a standalone hair loss condition
. Whilst there are many forms of stress-related hair loss
and links have been established between emotional stress also playing a part in thinning hair via psychodermatology
, we are unaware of pyschogenic alopecia being offered as an established medical diagnosis in the UK.
Similar to trichotillomania
In cats, psychogenic alopecia can be similar to the human issue trichotillomania
, which involves an obsessive compulsion to repeatedly twist or pull out hair. Cats - particularly indoor cats and oriental breeds - may be triggered by environmental stresses to over-groom themselves, lick or chew at their fur, and may even pull it out - as humans do.
Accordingly to an article from the Small Animal Dermatology (Fourth Edition), 2017, published in the Science Today journal, 'The condition is uncommon in cats, with purebred cats that have high-strung, nervous temperaments (e.g., Siamese, Burmese, Himalayans, Abyssinians) being possibly predisposed. Psychogenic alopecia is overdiagnosed; flea hypersensitivity, food allergy, atopy, and other ectoparasites are more common causes of feline alopecia.'
In humans trichotillomania is a behavioural condition, also often set off by stress, for which therapy such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, is often the solution recommended by a GP. Once the person has their condition under control and has been 'pull free' for a significant amount of time, if desired and where the follicles are still intact, hair loss treatment
may be sought.
Anyone concerned about persistent shedding or sudden bald patches should consult a hair expert for a timely diagnosis and treatment recommendations, where appropriate. Where there is underlying stress or anxiety, it is wise to also seek specialist help from your doctor who can advise as to how best to properly manage this.