Alopecia is simply the medical term for hair loss.
What are the Causes of Alopecia?
Alopecia (hair loss) has a wide number of possible causes. Dermatologists divide hair loss into diffuse alopecia and localised alopecia, and also into scarring, or non-scarring alopecia.
Rarer caused of hair loss include alopecia caused by traction or certain hair treatments (such as hot combing), hair pulling and inflammatory conditions of the scalp such as lupus erythematosus or psoriasis, conditions which dermatologists are very used to treating.
What are the Causes of Diffuse (Generalised) Alopecia?
Diffuse alopecia has a number of common causes including age-related thinning of the scalp hair in response to androgen hormones (androgenetic alopecia), deficiencies of iron or zinc, thyroid gland disorders, recent illness or pregnancy.
Androgenetic alopecia (age-related hair loss) occurs very slowly in most people (both men and women) from the age of about thirty, but in some people is much faster. This can be hugely distressing and cause significant loss of confidence.
What are the Causes of Localised (Patchy) Alopecia?
Localised alopecia means patchy hair loss. The commonest cause of this is alopecia areata, which probably affects about 1 in 50 people at some stage. The condition is thought to be autoimmune, meaning that the body’s own immune cells attack the hair follicles which stop working. Hair loss tends to be complete in affected areas, but patchy with normal hair in between. Men often experience hair loss in the beard area. Fortunately most people’s hair will recover naturally with medical treatments also encouraging hair growth. Occasionally alopecia areata can be some generalised and affect the whole scalp (called alopecia totalis), which may not fully recover. Children with localised hair loss may have scalp ringworm (called tinea capitis).
Investigations and treatment
Your dermatologist will discuss the history of your hair loss, examine the scalp to assess the pattern of hair loss and the health of the scalp skin and then may undertake tests which can include blood investigations and sometimes a biopsy of the scalp when a tiny sample of scalp skin is removed under local anaesthetic and then examined by a specialist under the microscope.
Fortunately diffuse androgenetic alopecia often responds to treatments, which may include combinations of topical lotions and oral medicines and supplements. Your dermatologist will advise you about these in detail.