Alopecia is the partial or complete loss of hair from areas of the body where it normally grows. Simply put it is the medical term for baldness. However there are many different types of alopecia, each with its own cause. So in order for a doctor to begin to understand and address an individual patients hair loss, it is vital that they understand exactly what form of alopecia they are dealing with. As Dr. Edmond Griffin and Dr. Ashley Curtis of The Griffin Center of Hair Restoration and Research always say: Every alopecia must have a diagnosis.
The most common form of hair loss is androgenetic alopecia. Known as pattern baldness,androgenetic alopecia is now understood to affect both men and women. In men and in some women,androgenetic alopecia is due to a hereditary predisposition to the effects ofdihydrotestosterone(DHT) on the hair follicles. Over time, this by-product of the natural break-down of testosterone in the body causes the growth cycle of the hair follicles to become shorter and shorter. The hair follicles sprout hairs that are thinner than normal. Over time, the hairs become thinner and thinner, and eventually the follicles wither away and stop producing hair altogether. The hair thins and sheds along a progressive and predictable pattern, which varies between men and women.
Alopecia areata causes complete hair loss in either smooth, circular patches or in a diffuse pattern on the scalp, eyebrows, beard, or other hair bearing areas on the body. In many cases, these patches are small or randomly distributed, but in some cases (alopecia totalisor alopecia universalis), the patch essentially becomes the complete loss of all hair on thescalp or the entire body. Alopecia areata occurs when the body forms antibodies against its own hair follicles and is genetic in nature. There is a lot of research being conducted to identify possible triggers for alopecia areata. Patients can gain more insight into this type of hair loss by visiting www.naaf.org (The National Alopecia Areata Foundation).
Traction alopecia is an easily remedied condition caused by excessive, ongoing tension placed on the scalp by tight hairstyles such as braids, weaves,and ponytails. These hairstyles can eventually pull hair out and permanently scar the scalp. This form of hair loss is rarely permanent and treatment simply involves the immediate removal of the traction on the hair and the temporary alteration of the facilitating hair care practices. Long-standing tension on the hair and failure to discontinue traction-producing hairstyles can lead to irreversible hair loss.
Finally cicatricial alopecia (also known as scarring alopecia) results from the destruction of hair follicles caused by the chronic inflammation of the scalp which can result from any of several serious medical conditions including discoid lupus erythematosus, sarcoidosis, and neoplastic disease. Initially, it presents as either localized or wide-spread patchy hair loss. In some cases it progresses gradually, without noticeable symptoms, and may go unnoticed for some time, while in other instances the hair loss is associated with severe itching, burning, and pain and is rapidly progressive. The edges of the bald patches look distinctively more ragged than in alopecia areata, but the affected areas may be smooth and clean or may have redness, scaling, increased or decreased pigmentation, or may have raised blisters with fluids or pus coming from the affected area. Due to the wide variety of possible presentations, any hint of scarring alopecia should prompt a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. It is very difficult to regrow hair in areas of scar, and therefore, our number one goal is to halt the progression of the scarring alopecia.
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