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Alopecia (hair loss): Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About alopecia (hair loss)

Alopecia is characterised by loss of hair from the scalp and other hair-bearing areas of the body. The extent of the disease may vary from mild to severe.

Alopecia (hair loss): Incidence, age and sex

Alopecia occurs in 1 to 2 % of the general population. It can affect an individual of any age group but young adults are more susceptible to this condition. It is much more common in men than women.

Signs and symptoms of alopecia (hair loss): Diagnosis

In most instances, alopecia is a harmless condition leading only to minor disruption of physical appearance. It mostly affects the scalp but may not spare other hair-bearing areas like eyebrows, beard or limbs. It commences as a smooth, hairless patch or several patches. Other associated features may include redness of skin, itching or very short broken hairs at the affected site. In localised or patchy alopecia, re-growth of hair may be seen within a year in most of the individuals. Rarely hair loss may be complete involving the entire scalp. The prognosis is very poor in such cases with absence of re-growth of hair.

Causes and prevention of alopecia (hair loss)

Alopecia has varied causes. Any chronic infection or illness can temporarily arrest hair growth and can lead to alopecia. It can also be caused by hypothyroidism and other hormonal disorders, certain medications especially chemotherapy drugs used in cancer treatment, and bacterial and fungal infections of the scalp. Many men typically have androgenic alopecia or ‘male pattern baldness’ which has a strong familial tendency. However, in many cases of alopecia, there is no identifiable cause and it is believed to be due to an auto immune reaction to hair follicles.

Alopecia (hair loss): Complications

Alopecia does not result in serious health problems. But it may cause emotional and psychological distress due to unsatisfactory physical appearance.

Alopecia (hair loss): Treatment

The detailed medical history and physical examination including the unique pattern of hair loss may lead to a clear diagnosis of hair loss. Biopsy of the hair may also be needed if there is any confusion regarding the cause of alopecia.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for alopecia. There are some treatment modalities which may benefit some individuals which include application of lotions and creams (minoxidil) and administration of drugs which inhibit activation of male hormones. Alternately, hairpieces or wigs may also be used to cover baldness. Hair transplant may also be attempted and gives good results.