Originally from the Greek “alopex” meaning Fox’s disease, it has come to be defined simply as a sudden and random hair loss disease that frequently re-occurs in men, women and children of any age.
In cases of alopecia, a person’s leukocytes or white blood cells, attack their own immune system, possibly reacting to naturally produced chemicals called cytokines. This attack results in the anagen or growth phase of the hair being prematurely stopped, forcing the hair into its telogen or resting phase when the hairs are abruptly shed.
Whilst not being detrimental to a person’s physical health in any way, alopecia can be very traumatic and hence possibly damaging to a person’s mental or emotional well-being.
Alopecia, in one form or another, affects approximately 1.7% of the world’s population and is divided roughly equally between men and women. Surprisingly, just 25% of those affected, have a history of the disorder within their family.
The alopecia “family” is categorised into three separate types;
Alopecia areata – Hair loss in patches
Alopecia totalis - The loss of all head hair
Alopecia universalis – The loss of hair all over the body
Alopecia areata is generally thought to be a disease of the auto - immune system. It has been linked to stress although studies do indicate some genetic predisposition to the disease.
Alopecia areata is a hair loss condition that causes random patches of baldness to appear in the scalp area. This can go on to create total baldness but in many cases, after a month or two, the hair will re grow.
Typically, one or two bald patches will appear on the scalp. They will generally be round in shape and perhaps as large as a ten pence piece. They may itch a little or deliver a slight burning sensation but aside from that, are not painful.
When the bald patch or patches first appear it is impossible to know how they will develop. In many cases hair will begin to re grow within a couple of months and be fully restored within 3-6 months. In some cases the hair will grow back a different colour, most commonly coming back, as white or grey. In time however, this should revert to its original shade.
There is no accounting for when these bald patches show up either. They don’t all come along at once, nor do they wait for one to re grow before another one shows. They may even merge to create one larger bald patch. They are entirely random.
It is not just the scalp that is affected; it may be that patches of body hair, beard, eyebrows, or even eyelashes disappear. In some cases, a person’s finger and toenails can be affected, becoming pitted or ridged.
A sufferer of alopecia areata also has a higher than average chance of developing other autoimmune diseases. Among them are thyroid disorders, pernicious anaemia and Vitiligo.
Alopecia totalis is a variation on the alopecia areata theme. They are basically the same affliction but manifest in a different, more dramatic way. Larger bald patches develop in some people with others losing all their scalp hair.
Alopecia totalis mostly affects children and adults below 40 years old, though it can affect people of all ages. As with alopecia areata, it can affect the sufferer's finger and toenails, giving them a pitted or ridged appearance and making them brittle. The exact cause is still unknown, although again, current theories put it down to an autoimmune disease, stress or genetics.
Alopecia universalis is alopecia areata in its most severe form. Rapid and complete hair loss takes place, including eyelashes and eyebrows. It can happen to anyone at any age, and like areata, is considered an autoimmune disorder.
People suffering from alopecia universalis are basically healthy, but have a tendency towards thyroid disease and Vitiligo. Similarly, those suffering from Vitiligo, a condition in which the patient suffers patchy loss of skin pigmentation, may also suffer from alopecia universalis at some time.
Alopecia universalis is a genetic disorder; a person born with this trait should protect themselves from exposure to too much sunlight and bacteria. In particular they should protect the scalp, nasal cavity and eyes.
From Areata to Totalis to Universalis
Approximately 1/5th of those who suffer from alopecia areata will go on to develop the more severe cases of alopecia totalis or alopecia universalis and this is more likely to happen under the following circumstances;
Alopecia is the loss of hair from the scalp, face, body or all three. Approximately forty-six types of Alopecia exist and most of them are a symptom of illness or changes in body chemistry. Fortunately, nearly all are curable and with the right Alopecia treatment, hair nearly always grows back. Diagnosis is essential, as this will give a very strong indication of the prognosis or likely outcome.
Causes of Female Alopecia
There are two different types of female alopecia, medically known as anagen effluvium and Telogen effluvium. Anagen effluvium is generally due to internally administered medications, such as chemotherapy agents, that poison the growing hair follicle Telogen effluvium, is due to an increased number of hair follicles entering the resting stage.
Most people assume that it is only men who suffer from alopecia, but nothing could be further from the truth. Although it is basically true with regards to heredity, millions of women the world over suffer from some form of alopecia and the number appears to be rising each year.
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