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Alopecia areata seen as circular bald spots

General description of alopecia areata

Alopecia areata often called simply as AA, is an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss. An autoimmune disease is one in which the immune system of the body turns on itself. It is sometimes called spot baldness because it causes round spots of baldness on the scalp. This disease is quite common affecting 1 to 2 percent of the United States population. In about 2 percent of the patients, the disease changes into a more diffused form of hair loss, covering wide areas of the scalp.

spot baldness Alopecia areata

AA occurs when a person's white blood cells attack and destroy the hair follicle's. After the hair follicles are attacked, they stop producing hair, causing the disctinctive localized bald patches. This tupe of hair loss usually occurs over a short period of time.

Severe alopecia areata can take two forms:

  • Allopecia totalle: All hair on the scalp is lost.
  • Allopecia univeralis: All hair on the scalp is lost, along with the hair on the eyebrows, eyelashes, and hair on the other parts of the body.

The less sever alopecia areata can take two main forms:

  • Allopecia areata monolocularis: Baldness occurs on only one patch on teh scalp.
  • Allopecia arreata barbae: Hair loss occurs in patches on a man's beard.

Alopecia areata can occur at any age, with most patients diagnosed to be between the ages of 15 to 29 nearly half of them below the age of 20. This is a very fair disease: an equal number of men and women develop AA, and occurs equally in every race.

How the alopecia areata disorder is diagnosed

Some patients of areata areata complain of burning or pitching in the area of balding but others don't. It's path is unpredictable. Eighty percent of the patients have only one bald spot. The bald patches can be round or oval shape, and expose smooth, bals skin.

Normally the disease only affects the scalp, but other body hair may be affected, which aid in diagnosing the condition. Alopecia areata also shows itself in finger nail abnormalities such as small pits in the nail plate. People woth AA also atopic dermatitis (an allergic skin reaction).

An important diagnostic clue of alopecia areata is the presence of "exclamation point hairs" on the perimeter of the bald patch. These hairs are formed as the body attacks the lower portion of the hair follicle, and the damage produces the finely tapered end, looking like a tiny spear stuck in the scalp.

A doctor may gently pull hair along the edge to determine whether the patient has AA. Healthy hair doesn't come out when pulled gently but an AA diseased hair will.

Treatment options for alopecia areata

In 90 percent of the cases involving alopecia areata, hair grows back on its own and no treatment is needed. The chances of regrowth is best when the condition is localized to just a few places on the scalp and the patient is over 40 years old. The conditions tend to be more severe for younger patients. If the disease progresses to alopecia universalis or alopecia totalis, no treatment can be sure to work well.

Options for treatment include:

  • Steroids: Generally steroids reduces inflammation. In the case of alopecia areata, steroids are used to stop the immune cells from destroying hair follicles. The steroids may be injected directly into the bald patch or may prescribe a topical steeroid cream that you may apply. When the sisease is too extensiveto treat with multiple injections or topical cream, oral steroids are an option. Steroids are taken only for a short period of time because of the many side effects of long term use, including osteoporosis, very fragile skin and diabetes.
  • Minoxidil/Rogaine: Minoxidil is usually used to treat pattern baldness but for unknown reasons, it sometimes help with alopecia areata. It is topically applied to bald patches.
  • Cyclosporine: This is a potent suppressant for T cells, the immune system cells that hair follicles in AA. It is usually taken orally and is commonly used to treat other conditions such as psoriasis. Doctors are reluctant to prescribe this for AA because it can cause kidney damage, high blood pressure and the weakened immune system can invite other diseases.
  • DNCB: This chemical (dinitrochioro benzene) rapidly produces skin sensitivity. Continued application of DNCB boosts local immune function but can produce a continuing rash. This can cause hair regrowth in some patients but it does not always work. DNCB should only be taken under the strict supervision of a doctor experienced with this treatment.

The links related to this page on hair loss diseases are:

bullet Alopecia areata - circular bald spots on the scalp
bullet Telogen effluvium - sudden hair shedding
bullet Tinea capis - fungal infection of the hair
bullet Thyroid gland diseases that cause hair loss
bullet Illnesses that cause non-permanent hair loss
bullet Scarring alopecia - permanent hair loss
bullet Lupus and hair loss
bullet Medications that cause hair loss
bullet Other diseases that cause hair loss
bullet How hair loss diseases are diagnosed








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