Hair Loss

What Is Alopecia Areata?


September 04, 2018

Dr. Angela Phipps, D.O., A.B.H.R.S., Medical Advisor to Hair Club and Bosley Medical Group Physician*, is sharing hair loss information through a quarterly guest post on our blog, The Good Hair Guide.

Alopecia areata is an unpredictable, complex condition affecting nearly 7 million people in the U.S. and 150 million people worldwide.

For some, alopecia areata causes patchy hair loss on the scalp while others experience a total loss of hair. The condition can come and go, but may also lead to permanent hair loss. Since September is National Alopecia Areata Awareness Month, I’d like to answer some common questions about this mysterious condition.

What Causes Alopecia Areata?

Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease, which occurs when your body’s immune system mistakes healthy, normal cells—in this case, the cells of the hair follicles—as foreign and attacks them. We still don’t know what initiates the attack, but it’s possible that viruses, bacteria or environmental factors play a role. Sometimes alopecia areata occurs within families, suggesting there’s also a genetic component.

It’s important to note that alopecia areata is not contagious. In fact, alopecia areata is a polygenic disease, meaning both parents contribute specific genes that cause a child to develop the condition. It’s why most parents with alopecia areata do not pass it down to their children.

Stress can be an instigating factor in alopecia areata. While stress itself doesn’t cause the condition, it can trigger an inflammatory hormone called cortisol. That hormone can initiate the autoimmune defense response that activates alopecia areata.

What Are the Symptoms of Alopecia Areata?

Each individual with alopecia areata has a different experience, making it difficult to predict a pattern of hair loss or how severe and long-lasting it will be. In some cases, people experience hair loss for a short period of time, while for others it’s permanent. Some of the most common symptoms of alopecia areata include:

  • Small, round patches of hair loss on the scalp, face or other parts of the body
  • Hairs that are narrow at the base, near the scalp (“exclamation point hairs”)
  • Hair loss on one side of the scalp, rather than on both sides
  • Substantial hair loss in a short period of time
  • Hair loss and regrowth that occur on different parts of the body simultaneously

Are There Different Types of Alopecia Areata?

There are several forms of alopecia areata. Each one results in hair loss, but the symptoms vary. The three most common types include:

  • Alopecia areata patchy: This is the most prevalent form of alopecia areata and is characterized by one or more coin-sized (round or oval) patches of hair loss on the scalp or other parts of the body. It can develop into one of the more severe types listed below.
  • Alopecia totalis: This is one of the rarer, more advanced types of alopecia areata, resulting in complete hair loss on the scalp.
  • Alopecia universalis: The most advanced form of alopecia areata, people with alopecia universalis experience a complete loss of hair on the scalp, face and other parts of the body. This type of alopecia areata is rare.

Who Is Affected by Alopecia Areata?

Alopecia areata typically affects adults between the ages of 30 and 60, but it can also affect older adults, teens and children. It rarely occurs in children younger than age three.

Is There a Cure for Alopecia Areata?

Although there is no cure for alopecia areata, treatments are available. These include powerful anti-inflammatory drugs that can suppress the immune system, or less invasive therapies like acupuncture and herbal supplements. Support groups also exist to help people cope with anxiety caused by hair loss.

Are There Hair Loss Solutions for People with Alopecia Areata?

Yes! If you’ve lost some or all of your hair because of alopecia areata, there is hope. The professionals at Hair Club have helped hundreds of thousands get their hair back, some of whom have alopecia areata, and they can help you, too. Schedule your private, complimentary consultation with one of their hair loss experts. You’ll learn which of their proven hair loss solutions is right for you and discover for yourself how having a full head of hair can help you experience life in a whole new way!

*Hair Club does not employ physicians. Professional hair transplantation services provided by the affiliated physicians of the Bosley Medical Group. Please note that no surgical procedures are performed until a patient has been examined, diagnosed and accepted treatment by a Bosley® physician.

For informational purposes only. The information presented herein is general in nature and is not intended to substitute the advice of a physician or other health care professional. The exact cause of hair loss can only be determined by a medical professional.