Among the common people, alopecia is not widely known word. It is a medical term, which is used for hair fall problem. Hair fall itself is a disease. But sometimes it is seen as symptoms of other diseases. Sometimes some drugs cause it. But these type of hair fall is temporary. After a while, it is cured naturally. In this article, I will discuss alopecia as a disease itself.
Type of alopecia
Male pattern baldness
It is the most common type of alopecia that occurs with male. It is caused due to hormonal disorder that lies in androgen of male sex hormone. People with male pattern baldness are typically shown with round patches.
Female pattern baldness
Female pattern baldness is same as the male pattern alopecia that affects the woman.
You may have seen some people with a few round patches on the scalp. Normally these round patches are results of alopecia areata. In some cases of alopecia areata, affected people lose their all hair from the scalp. The factor that are responsible for Alopecia areata are mainly genetic. It is widely proved that a affected person had family history of having this disease. Tension and stress is another fact that causes alopecia areata to some people.
When the hair follicles are destroyed and hair does not grow back is generally occurred due to scarring alopecia. It also can happen as a side effect of some disease.
Anagen and Telogen Effluvium
A patient of cancer treated by chemotherapy loses his hair as side effect of that treatment. It is commonly known as anagen effluvium type of hair fall. On the otherside Telogen, effluvium is the result of stress and some drugs.
Treatment of Alopecia
Generally, there is no effective treatment for alopecia areata. Bu some hair proves effective in growing hair back. Minoxidil and Finasteride brings some effective result in growing hair. Although the effectiveness does not stay after stopping the dose of this drugs. Hair lose can be treated by cosmetic surgical methods. You can use wigs hairpieces to cover up your hair scalp. There are also some type of treatment that are expensive too. You can go for surgery, hair transplant. In hair, transplant process a skin of full of hair and follicles is removed and transplanted onto the scalp.
Most importantly alopecia can be handled by controlling your emotion and stress levels balance diet, cheerful lifestyle etc.
Is alopecia a type of cancer?
Many people ask the question, whether alopecia is a type of cancer or not. Short answer may be misleading. In some cases alopecia is closely related to cancer but alopecia is not cancer. Cancer treatments like chemotherapy and even cancer itself may cause alopecia. On the other hand excessive hair growth in any area may be a sign of cancer.
Before discussing relation between alopecia and cancer, I think it would be better to write few words about alopecia, cancer, hair loss and hair regrowth.
What is Alopecia?
In simple words among medical professionals hair loss is known as alopecia. So when someone talks about alopecia s/he is talking about hair fall or hair loss. There is another point to note, hair fall and hair regrowth is part of normal process. Average adults have 100,000 to 150,000 hairs and they lose around 100 hairs a day which is completely normal. If hair fall rate is high then there is real cause to be concerned. It’s known as alopecia. There may be several reasons for alopecia including skin disease, chemotherapy, which I will discuss little later.
Cancer is a disease which can be deadly if not treated early and properly. Before defining cancer I would like to write few words about cell. We all know that cell is the basic unit of living thing. It is estimated by scientists that average human body has around 10 trillion cells. We lose around 1 million skin cells in a day. So it’s clear that dying and reproduction of cells is a continuous life long process.
In case of cancer our cells are reproduced uncontrollably and cancerous cells may attack healthy cells. That means your healthy tissue and organs may be attacked. This is why cancer is so dangerous if cancerous cells are not killed early.
But killing cancerous cells is not easy. Anti cancer drugs often have severe side effects including hair fall. Radiotherapy is another method used to kill cancerous cell and radiotherapy may also cause hair fall.
I think you are starting to get an idea, how alopecia is related to cancer, though alopecia itself isn’t cancer. More on that later.
Hair Loss and Regrowth
As I mentioned above alopecia is synonym of hair loss and I have already discussed in brief about alopecia, let’s discuss about hair regrowth. Actually our hair is a type of protein called keratin. It is produced in a small anatomical sack called follicle. By producing keratin follicles continue to push hair strings outward and hair continues to grow. But these follicles on our scalp have a life cycle. At any time around 10% follicles are in resting phase and hairs from those follicles starts to fall. After the resting phase follicle become active again and hair starts to grow. We never see bald guy because 90% of follicles are always in active phase. But the problem is many diseases, hormone imbalance, cancer treatment including chemotherapy & radiotherapy and some types of cancer itself (source) may affect follicles which may lead to alopecia.
Alopecia and Cancer Treatment
Alopecia isn’t obvious in chemotherapy. Several drugs are used as part of cancer treatment; some drugs cause hair thinning, some cause partial hair loss or loss of patches of hair and some cause total hair loss. Luckily there are some drugs which do not cause hair loss at all and complete hair loss is very unlikely. Hair fall is one of the side effects of anti cancer drugs and intensity of side effects including hair fall varies person to person. Doctors decide which drug or drugs are most suitable for cancer treatment of a specific patient. But in some cases there are some options and patients may discuss which drugs are less likely to cause hair fall. It’s very difficult to guess about side effects early. Some anticancer drugs doesn’t cause hair loss and on the other hand there are some anticancer drugs which may cause total hair loss including underarm, eyelashes, eyebrows and pubic hair.
In most cases Hair comes back
Usually hair fall begins within two to three weeks of chemotherapy but it regrows after completing the treatment. During the period you can use wig, scarf, hat or something like these.
Alopecia due to Cancer
When we discuss about alopecia and cancer, we usually talk about hair loss as side effect of cancer treatment. But there are some types of cancer like mycosis cutaneous lymphoma, fungoides and Sézary syndrome which may also cause hair fall.
What Causes Alopecia Areata
Alopecia areata causes hair fall in small or random patches. It is an autoimmune disease. When immune system attacks the hair follicles is when Alopecia develops. Hair loss caused by alopecia areata affects the scalp. Other parts of the body can also be affected. The disease usually does not cause total hair loss. It can block hair from growing back. The hair loss related with alopecia areata is unpredictable. How many hair falls or regrows can vary from person to person. The exact cause of alopecia is yet to be known. However, in many cases, people who have other autoimmune issues such as rheumatoid arthritis or type 1 diabetes are particularly vulnerable to Alopecia areata.
Symptoms of Alopecia Areata
Hair loss is the main symptom of alopecia areata. Hair falls out in small patches on the scalp. The patches are typically several centimeters or less. You may notice clumps of hair in the shower or on the pillow. As hair loss in similar pattern can be caused by other types of diseases, alopecia areata should not be diagnosed by hair loss alone.
More extensive hair loss can also occur in rare cases. This however is typically an indicator of other types of alopecia including alopecia totalis and alopecia universalis. Alopecia totalis involves total hair loss on the scalp. Alopecia universalis involves hair loss on the entire body.
Causes Alopecia Areata
Alopecia areata develops when the immune system confuses healthy cells or hair follicles with foreign substances. Typically, the immune system defends body against foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses. When alopecia areata occurs, the immune system attacks hair follicles mistakenly. Hair grows from hair follicles. Due to attack by the immune system, hair follicles get smaller and cease to produce hair, resulting in hair loss.
What causes the immune system to attack hair follicles is still unknown to researchers. However, as people with family history of autoimmune diseases are more prone to alopecia areata, researchers believe that genetic reason may be linked with development of alopecia areata. Researchers also believe that apart from genetic reason, certain factors in environment are also needed to cause alopecia areata.
Diagnosing Alopecia Areata
A doctor can review symptoms and determine if you have alopecia areata. Looking at the extent of hair loss and examining hair samples under a microscope can help doctors diagnose alopecia areata. In order to rule out other conditions for hair fall such as fungal infection, a doctor can also perform a scalp biopsy. Your doctor will take a small piece of skin off your scalp, during a scalp biopsy for analysis.
In case other autoimmune conditions are suspected, blood test may be done. The type of disorder your doctor suspects determines the type of blood test to be done. Your doctor may test to determine presence of abnormal antibodies. In case of presence of autoantibodies in your blood, it typically indicates that you have an autoimmune disorder. In order to rule out other conditions, doctors may conduct other blood tests that are as follows.
- Antinuclear Antibody Test
- Thyroid Hormones
- Follicle Stimulating and Luteinizing Hormone
- Free and Total Testosterone
- Iron Level
- C-reactive Protein and Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR).
Treatment for Alopecia Areata
Cure for alopecia areata is still unknown. The condition, however, is treatable. Treatment may help block future hair loss and regrow hair quickly.
Medications such as minoxidil (Rogaine) can be applied to the scalp to stimulate hair growth. There are other therapies including corticosteroid cream or ointment and steroid injections. Photo chemotherapy may also be used to boost hair growth, in some cases. It is a kind of radiation treatment that uses a combination of ultraviolet light and oral medication.
Some people rely on alternative therapies to treat alopecia areata. These therapies include acupuncture, vitamins, herbal supplements, aromatherapy etc. Most of the alternative therapies have not been tested in clinical trials. Effectiveness of these therapies remains unknown.
Some steps can help minimize discomfort. Applying sunscreen is useful to protect exposed areas from sunburns. In cases, eyelashes have fallen out; wearing sunglasses can help shield eyes from sun and dust. Wearing a hat, wig or scarf can help protect the scalp.
The effectiveness of different treatments can vary. In cases of some people, hair grows back on its own, needing no treatment. In some cases, people do not see any improvement despite going for every treatment option. In such cases, trying more than one treatment option at a time may help see a difference. It is good to keep in mind that hair regrowth may only be temporary. The hair that regrows can fall out again.
Coping with Alopecia Areata
Alopecia areata can be hard to deal with emotionally, especially when the whole scalp is affected by hair loss. People may feel depressed or isolated due to the condition. In such cases, support groups or counselors may help you cope with the effects of the disease. Support groups can provide environment for you to express anxiety or stress to feel better. The National Alopecia Areata Foundation (NAAF) has such support groups in the United States. These groups meet in various places. The NAAF also has online message boards and conferences to help people connect with each other.
Different types of Alopecia Areata
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disorder. The immune system mistakenly confuses hair follicles with foreign substances, attacks the hair follicles and causes hair fall. It causes patchy hair loss. It can range from mild to severe form.
Different forms of Alopecia Areata
There are three main types of Alopecia areata including alopecia areata (patchy), alopecia totalis and alopecia universalis.
Alopecia Areata (Patchy)
It involves patchy hair loss rather than hair loss in the entire area on scalp or other parts of the body it occurs on. Hair loss patches can be on the scalp or other parts of the body that grow hair such as the eyebrows, beard, eyelashes, hands, legs and arms. This type has chance to convert into alopecia totalis or alopecia universalis.
It causes a person to lose most or all of the hair on the scalp.
Alopecia universalis is at more advanced level than alopecia totalis. It involves hair loss on the entire body.
There are also other forms of alopecia areata that are as follows.
Diffuse Alopecia Areata
Diffuse alopecia areata involves sudden thinning of the hair all over the scalp. It is usually hard to diagnose as it looks like other forms of hair loss including telogen effluvium or female or male pattern hair loss.
Ophiasis alopecia areata involves a unique pattern of hair loss that occur on the sides and lower back of the scalp, in the shape of a band. This condition is harder to treat as it doesn’t respond to medication quickly.
Following are few other types of alopecia.
Alopecia barbae is a type of alopecia areata, which is localized to the beard area. It can cause extensive hair loss across the entire beard area or a single bald patch.
Androgenetic Alopecia (AGA)
Androgenetic alopecia is also known as male or female pattern baldness. It involves thinning of hair in both men and women. It is the most commonly experienced type of progressive hair loss. The cause for this type of hair loss is thought to be hereditary.
Scarring Alopecias (Cicatricial Alopecias)
Scarring alopecias involves a group of rare disorders that cause permanent hair loss. It is also known as cicatricial alopecias.
Traction alopecia gets caused by excessive pulling or tension on hair shafts as a result of certain hair styles. It is experienced mostly by women, particularly those of Afro-Caribbean and East Indian origin. The way the hair gets pulled determines hair loss. Prolonged traction alopecia can cause new hair follicles to stop developing and result in permanent hair loss.
Hair loss and regrowth can be unpredictable regardless of types of alopecia areata. In cases of some people, hair may regrow and not fall out again. There is no known cure for alopecia areata. Nonetheless, hair follicles remain alive in case of any type of alopecia areata. This leaves hope for hair regrowth any time in future.
There are different treatment options for different types of alopecia areata. Seeing a doctor and having a diagnosis can help determine the type of alopecia areata you may have and the type of treatment needed.
Is Alopecia contagious in Humans?
Alopecia rarely occurs due to infection. Thus, it is not generally considered to be a contagious condition. Nonetheless, there is an exception, which is a patch of hair loss caused by ringworm of the scalp. Ringworm is a kind of fungal infection, like athlete’s foot. It grows slowly on the skin.
It usually does not occur on the head. Sometimes it occurs on the scalp of a child that has pet animal with the same problem. This condition is not hard to treat. As this condition is uncommon these days, proper diagnosis is necessary. A skin specialist can diagnose it by examining the scalp.
Can Alopecia just go away?
Alopecia is a very unpredictable disease. Sometimes it just goes away on its own. The reason behind this is unknown. When it goes, it may or may not come back. It can appear at childhood or any age. It can disappear for decades and then resurface again. In some cases, it goes away and never returns.