One of the most difficult things about treating hair loss is that it is not actually a single, readily recognizable condition with a clear cause. Instead, hair loss can be the result of a variety of different factors, ranging from genetics to underlying illnesses to complicated environmental factors. That is why Dr. Edmond Griffin and Dr. Ashley Curtis believe that, before any treatment recommendations can be made, every case of hair loss requires its own diagnosis. One of the many forms of hair loss that we treat at The Griffin Center of Hair Restoration and Research is alopecia areata, a particularly perplexing condition that can, in some extreme cases, lead to the total loss of all the hair on the head or even the entire body.
Alopecia areata is a type of autoimmune disorder, not unlike rheumatoid arthritis, but instead of attacking the cartilage in the joints the body’s immune system instead attacks the rapidly growing cells at the base of the hair follicles. The inflammation that results effectively stalls the natural cycle of hair growth and causes hair to shed in one or more small, round, smooth patches on the scalp. In rare cases, the condition may progress to the point that all of the scalp hair is lost, a condition called alopecia totalis, or even to the complete loss of all body hair, or alopecia universalis. Alopecia areata affects slightly less than 2% of the people in America, making it far less prevalent than androgenetic alopecia, the most common form of genetic pattern baldness, but still not particularly rare. It can occur in men, women, and even in children, although the chances of having the condition do appear to be slightly greater in patients with a family history of other autoimmune disorders such as diabetes, lupus, or thyroid disease. The disease also seems to appear more often in the young, as nearly 70% of the patients with alopecia areata are younger than 30 and fewer than 20% are older than 40.
Unfortunately the underlying biological processes of this disease are still not entirely understood. Researchers have been unable to identify the triggers that cause a “flare-up” of alopecia areata and the course of this type of hair loss can be extremely unpredictable. In cases where the symptoms suggest the presence of alopecia areata, microscopic examination of the shedding hairs or a skin biopsy may be necessary in order to arrive at a complete hair loss diagnosis. Blood tests may also be necessary if there is a possibility that the patient might have another autoimmune disease. While there is no cure for alopecia areata, there are a number of treatment options that can help mitigate the effects and help to restore some hair growth. Anti-inflammatory corticosteroids can help lessen the body’s immune response, preserving the hair follicles, while Rogaine® (minoxidil) has proven to slow hair loss and, in some cases, even re-growing hair. Some success has also been achieved with advanced non-surgical hair loss treatments like red light laser therapy or injections of platelet rich plasma, which contains growth factors that may be able to help counteract the inflammatory response responsible for stopping hair growth in patients suffering from alopecia areata and push the condition into dormancy so that the hair has the chance to regrow. Hair regrowth may occur even without treatment and as many as 75% of cases resolve spontaneously within a year, however if this occurs the condition can unexpectedly reactivate at any time. We encourage patients to use the National Alopecia Areata Foundation as a resource to get more in-depth information about this condition as it becomes available.
Hair loss can be a complicated and emotionally taxing issue, but at The Griffin Center we can work with you to help you get exactly the kind of help that you need. If you have any questions about your own personal hair loss or if you would like to learn more about any of the advanced hair loss treatments we offer, please contact The Griffin Center of Hair Restoration or The Griffin Center for Women’s Hair Loss and schedule an appointment for a consultation. Remember to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ to get the latest news in hair restoration and research.