by Kimberly Allen, RN
Alopecia is the medical term for hair loss. Alopecia can be temporary or permanent and it can occur anywhere on the body. There are also several types of alopecia that range from thinning hair to complete baldness. There are over 35 million men as well as 21 million women in the US suffering from some type of alopecia Approximately 40% of those men will have visible hair loss by the time they reach 35 years of age and that goes up to 65% by the age of 60. On the other hand 80% of women have visible hair loss by the time they reach 60 years of age.
The most common type of alopecia is known as androgenic alopecia or more commonly called “male pattern baldness.” Over 90% of men with thinning hair have this type. This type can also begin in younger people as well because it’s a genetic condition. My son started losing his hair in 7th grade. The difference in his hairline between his 7th grade picture and his senior picture is drastic. Also, despite being called “androgenic” alopecia or male pattern baldness, females can also suffer from this condition, though they usually develop it after menopause when their hormone levels are diminished. A family history of this type of baldness is a good predictor of who will suffer from this type. Experts have found that with this type of hair loss there are too many androgens surrounding the hair follicles which in turn blocks hair growth.
Alopecia areata is another common type of baldness. However, this type is an autoimmune disorder. This type can develop in anyone, but your risk increases if you have a family history. Also, people that are suffering from an existing autoimmune disorder like thyroid disease or Lupus, even diabetes have a higher risk of developing alopecia areata. In this type, the balding occurs in patches, frequently in quarter size clumps. The amount of hair loss varies from person to person and is very unpredictable. There are some people that lose their hair but it grows back only to fall out again, while in others it grows back and doesn’t fall out again. In this type, there’s always a chance that it will grow back no matter how much hair you lose. Alopecia areata can also cause total baldness on the scalp as well as the body.
Another form of alopecia is Telogen effluvium. This type is most frequently related to pregnancy, stress and certain medications. This type of alopecia usually resolves on it’s own after a few months.
Scarring alopecia is a type of alopecia that causes scarring, and the areas that become scarred do not regrow hair. There are several causes for this type including fungus.
Unfortunately there is no cure for alopecia, however it is possible to slow and even stop your hair loss. There are medications that promote the regrowth of hair though they are not appropriate for all types of alopecia. However, these medications are inconsistent in their effectiveness. They work differently in different people with only a small portion of people with alopecia developing complete regrowth of their hair. Also, if you stop taking the medications your hair loss will return. Mild cases of alopecia areata can sometimes be treated with corticosteroids that are injected into the area(s) affected. For those suffering with severe alopecia that is unresponsive to medications, hair transplants may be the answer. However, this surgery is expensive and not for everyone. For people that are in their 20’s and losing hair fast, especially if their fathers were bald by the time they are 55 years of age, these transplants won’t last forever.
For many hair loss can be extremely distressing. It can cause you to feel embarrassed as well as crush your confidence and self esteem. It’s important to discuss your situation with your doctor and create an individualized plan to help you treat and live with your condition.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.