What is alopecia?

Alopecia is the medical term for hair loss. The hair loss can be in patches, or hair loss ending in very thin hair, or actual baldness in males and females. What is known as male pattern baldness is called androgenic alopecia, although it can present in females, as well as males. This type of hair loss can happen to teenagers as well as adults. I have a bald spot that is androgenic alopecia. My bald spot is on my left temple, and when I get a hair cut, I have to be sure to warn the hair dresser not to cut my hair too short, or my bald spot will show. I think I was about 11 years old when I lost my hair in that spot. Women tend to lose their hair in patches, just like I did, but they rarely go bald all over their head.

There is another type of alopecia: Alopecia areata. This type of baldness happens in smooth round patches, and may present on the body. Some people have body hair all over, and then on an area there is a smooth patch with no hair. It could be on the arms, legs, back or anywhere on the body.
What causes alopecia?
The hair on our heads and bodies has a cycle of growth, resting phases, hair loss, and regrowth. The hair on our scalp grows for about 6 years, then about 10 percent of the hairs on our heads go into a resting phase for about 3 months and then they start falling out. We usually shed about 50 to 150 hairs in a day. When our hair starts thinning the rate of replacement is much lower than the rate of hair lost.
Androgenetic alopecia is genetic in nature. If your mom or dad had thinning hair or baldness, you may have it too. My father had male pattern baldness, and my mom also had thinning hair on top, so my hair started thinning when I was 35 years old. The age that you start losing your hair is predetermined in your genes, so all the fretting, primping and special care isn't going to make too much difference in your losing your hair.
The other type of alopecia: alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease. The cause is not known, but it is believed that a virus can trigger the immune system to attack the hair follicles. The difference in the two types of alopecia is that this type is not necessarily permanent. The hair may be lost and grow back time and time again.
Medications, poor nutrition and certain diseases-such as lupus, and thyroid disorders have caused temporary hair loss. People who go on strict diets where their intake of protein and iron are limited, there may be hair loss. I once went on a liquid diet and lost hair, but it grew back.
Medications that treat high blood pressure, arthritis, gout, as well as drugs used in chemotherapy in cancer patients can cause temporary baldness. Using chemicals on your hair, when your hair is processed by coloring and perms can cause breakage and thinning. I have stopped putting any color on my hair at all to see if my hair will thicken up at all. Processing the hair also strips the hair of its cuticle, which makes the diameter of the hair thinner. I am hoping to thicken the strands of individual hairs on my head by not applying any chemicals to my hair.
Hair loss can be caused by scalp infections. Cradle cap can occur in adults and children, and hair is easily pulled out just by combing. Ringworm, which is a fungal infection, is another cause of alopecia. This can be treated with a topical antifungal cream. When the scalp clears of infection, the hair usually grows back.
Are there treatments for alopecia?
There is no cure for baldness. The effectiveness of medications may be less for people who have lost lots of hair. In some cases Rogaine, which is an OTC medication that is rubbed into the scalp. It may work for some people, or at least slow down the rate of hair loss. The regrowth may not be much, it may be thinner than the rest of the hair, but it may be enough to help hide a bald spot. Rogaine has to be used twice a day and you have to keep it up. If you stop using Rogaine, you will lose the hair that you grew back.
There is a prescription medication-Propecia-for male pattern baldness. This is a pill, and it is not approved for women. Pregnant women are cautioned not to even handle this pill because it may seep through the skin and cause birth defects. If you are pregnant and your husband has been prescribed Propecia, to treat his baldness, do not handle the drug at all. Let him handle this medication himself, for the safety of your unborn baby. Propecia may cause defects in male fetuses.

Surgery is an option to treat Androgenetic alopecia, but it is very painful and it has its own risks, which include infection and scarring. Hair transplants and scalp reductions are an option. These surgeries are very painful and very expensive. The success of the surgery depends on the rate of hair loss that continues after the surgery. Surgery will not stop the hair loss. It will look good for a while, but regular treatments of hair transplants may have to be done to keep your hair looking the way you want it. Most people just accept this hair loss as natural. Some do nothing and others choose to wear a hair piece that blends into the hair to cover the thinning places.

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