A detailed guide to Alopecia Areata and how is will affect your life | Written by Gary Moyle
Alopecia Areata is a hair loss condition which usually affects the scalp although it can also affect other areas of the body. Hair loss tends to be rather rapid and often involves one side of the head more than the other.
(Above) A photo illustrating a typical case of alopecia areata.
This common but very challenging and capricious disease affects approximately 1.7 percent of the population overall, including more than 4.7 million people in the United States alone.
Source: NAAF (National Alopecia Areata Foundation)
Figures for Alopecia vary but the National Alopecia Areata Foundation (NAAF) suggest a figure of 1.7% in the United States and figures of between 0.1% and 1% are widely accepted in the UK and other european countries. Alopecia Areata affects both males and females and this type of hair loss is different to male pattern baldness, which is a common inherited condition.
Tip: How to pronounce Alopecia
In case your wondering what the correct pronunciation of Alopecia Areata is al-oh-PEE-shah air-ee-AH-tah.
Tip: The meaning of Alopecia
The word Alopecia originates from the Greek word “alopex” and can be literally translated as “Fox’s disease as it implies a similar condition to the mange in foxes, a condition in which the hair falls out in patches. Although today, Alopecia Areata is commonly defined as hair loss in patches across the scalp.
What are the causes of Alopecia Areata?
The most current medical studies have concluded that Alopecia Areata is caused by an abnormality in the immune system which leads to autoimmunity. The result is the immune system attacking particular tissues of the body. In Alopecia Areata, for as yet unknown reasons, the body's own immune system attacks the hair follicles and disrupts normal hair growth.
Biopsies of affected skin show immune cells inside of the hair follicles where they are not normally present. What causes this is unknown. Alopecia Areata is sometimes associated with other autoimmune conditions such as the following
- allergic disorders
- thyroid disease
- rheumatoid arthritis
- Ulcerative colitis
The disease is not caused by nerves or stress as it is not a nervous disorder and Alopecia sufferers’ have no control over when attacks of Alopecia will strike. This unpredictable nature of the disease can be one of the most challenging aspects. The good news is that hair growth can be stimulated by several treatments and can even occur after several years of extensive hair loss.
Are there any other symptoms that come with Alopecia?
If you are living a healthy lifestyle, eat well and don’t smoke you’ll probably be in very good health. The only noticeable side affect with Alopecia is a stippling on the nails in some people similar to tiny dents or scratches. In a small amount of people the nails are severely distorted.
Is Alopecia Areata a hereditary condition?
Sometimes, Alopecia Areata occurs within family members, suggesting a role of genes and heredity.
About 25% of people with Alopecia have a family history of the disorder.
Source: Bertolino, 2000.
According to the NAAF if an adult over the age of thirty develops the condition then the risk of passing the condition on to another family member is reduced however as most Alopecia sufferers are children and young adults the risk is increased. Despite the increased risk only one in five sufferers’ has other family members with the disease.
How does Alopecia affect our lives?
Although Alopecia Areata is not medically disabling the main challenge for most people is the emotional aspect. Many people with Alopecia Areata have issues with self esteem and a positive self image.
“…emotionally, this disease can be challenging, especially for those with extensive hair loss.”
Source: National Alopecia Areata Foundation
Thousand of people with Alopecia live a perfectly well adjusted live and have successfully dealt with the challenges and issues. But for many of us professional counselling from a psychiatrist, counsellor or social worker is needed. There are also several great self help books and courses that can help you deal with the psychological effects . Most importantly support from our friends and family can be the best way to make an emotional recovery.