Alopecia

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What is it?

Alopecia is the term generally used to describe hair loss on the body. Most often caused by the body attacking hair follicles out of confusion, alopecia can be caused by a variety of diseases and procedures, including but not limited to diabetes, lupus and radiation therapy, but it is also the term used to designate male and female pattern baldness. While the follicles do act disruptively, they are not permanently damaged, and for 90% of people who experience it, there are ways to regenerate hair growth.

Causes

Alopecia should not be confused with hypotrichosis, where no hair growth has occurred at all after birth. Rather, it is often the result of a certain medical condition or a harmful substance.

According to WebMD, the most common disease that causes it is known as androgenetic alopecia (AGA), also known as male and female pattern baldness. This originates exclusively from genetics and is fairly common.

Alopecia can also be caused by infections. Ringworm, for example, is a fungus that usually embeds itself into hair follicles, causing patches of hair to stop growing. The fungus will make hair brittle, eventually making it susceptible to simply falling out.

There are also a number of causes that are purely artificial. Cosmetic overprocessing, for example, is the term used to describe the decay of hair fibers and follicles as a result of sprays, shampoos and other hair products. Also, radiation therapy generally causes alopecia, though this is often done voluntarily for the sake of cancer treatment.

Ingestion of anabolic steroids and birth control pills may in some cases cause hair loss as well. Unfortunately, there are so many diseases that cause alopecia that sufferers may find it difficult to find a doctor that can track the cause. Hair loss is often misconceived as a purely aesthetic problem that does not deserve as much attention, but a better awareness of the absolute breadth of this disease would likely facilitate its prevention.

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Symptoms

Although the symptoms must already seem pretty evident, there are different magnitudes at which hair is lost. For those that experience genetic hair loss, the hairline is likely to recede quite gradually over a long period of time.

For those who have come into contact with chemicals, radiations or certain drugs, the hair is more likely to be lost in clumps. As for people who specifically have alopecia areata — where your immune system is told to attack its hair follicles — there may be corroding of the fingernails and toenails in the form of spots resembling pinpricks.  WebMD also points out that alopecia may leave short and stubby patches known as “exclamation point hair”, but this is relatively rare.

Diagnosis

Conventional diagnosis of male and female pattern hair loss can be done through simple visual means, but doctors and dermatologists alike now use more complex methods to figure out the root cause. Biopsies or analyses of hair follicles may be done at a high cost, but this is often done to check for carcinogens or poisons. WebMD indicates that one of the best ways to confirm alopecia in its early stages is the check the degree at which the hairs are thinning.

A visual reference known as the Norwood scale is also used to check for patterns in baldness. As the symptoms section indicates, certain patterns and rates of hair loss can provide clues as to what exactly is causing it. This type of diagnosis can also be done without physically meeting a doctor, and is even now done over the internet to alleviate consultation costs.

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Treatment

For those who suffer irreversible hair loss, aesthetic substitutes like wigs and tattoos are used, but for the 90% of alopecia sufferers who can regrow hair, there are viable options available. WebMD recommends Rogaine to rejuvenate baldness; if it is applied twice a day over an indefinite period of time, there is a modest chance that hair will regrow and its loss will slow down. Another recommended option is propecia, a drug originally used to treat prostate issues. Both men and women can use its hormone-blocking agents to prevent baldness, but there are questionable side effects that are worth consulting a doctor over.

Also popular is hair transplantation, which involves taking patches of hair still on the head and using the follicles on another area. This however, is often complicated and costly, as hundreds of implants need to be put in every session. Fortunately though, the technology is improving, and newer hair transplants are much more seamless than they previously were.