Understanding Hair Loss


shutterstock_112305326Because hair can play a vital role in developing our identity and self-esteem, hair loss can be a personal and troubling experience. Understanding what it is, what causes it, and how to treat it, however, can make hair loss more manageable.

What Is Alopecia?

Alopecia is the general medical term for hair loss.  While there are a variety of causes for alopecia, dermatologists classify it into several main types. Two common types seen in dermatology clinics include androgenetic alopecia and alopecia areta.

What Causes Hair Loss?

Androgenetic alopecia, also called male-pattern or female-pattern hair loss, is the most common type of alopecia and may result in permanent loss of hair.  It is largely caused by a combination of genetics and hormone changes.

Alopecia areata is an autoimmune skin condition that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the hair follicles.  It is characterized by patchy hair loss that most commonly affects the scalp but can occur anywhere on the body where hair is located.  Alopecia areata may progress to more diffuse disease such as that seen in alopecia totalis, or hair loss of the complete scalp, and alopecia universalis, or hair loss all over the body. Hair that is lost due to alopecia areata may regrow on its own but can eventually fall out again, especially if untreated. The course of the disease varies widely from person to person.

It’s important to note that while hair disorders may be a cosmetic concern, they are not necessarily linked with other, more serious medical problems. Many patients with alopecia are often healthy individuals otherwise.  It is recommended, however, that you see your dermatologist or primary care physician for further evaluation to rule out less common but concerning causes of alopecia.

Can Alopecia Be Treated?

Depending on the type and cause of your hair loss, there may be treatment options available to you to help stimulate hair growth. Consult your dermatologist about oral medications, topical creams or hair replacement options if hair loss is a concern for you.