At the Griffin Center of Hair Restoration and Research, we frequently stress to our patients that there are many different causes of hair loss. That is why it is so important that every individual case be thoroughly diagnosed so that the most effective course of treatment can be determined. However, there is one cause of hair loss that is far more common in both men and women than any other: androgenetic alopecia. Once known as “male pattern baldness,” the latest research suggests that this condition is far more complex, and less gender-specific, than this old name would indicate. Androgenetic alopecia affects an estimated 50 million men and 30 million women in the United States alone, but is still poorly understood by the general population. While most of our patients are familiar with the condition, many have misapprehensions about exactly how it is caused and what can be done about it. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about this extremely common form of hair loss.
What distinguishes androgenetic alopecia from other types of hair loss?
As many as 95% of all hair loss cases in both men and women are the result of androgenetic alopecia, which is generally recognizable by the distinctive pattern that the hair loss follows. In men, hair thins at the crown (near the top of the head) and gradually starts to recede above both temples, forming a characteristic “M” shape. Because it usually leaves the follicles on the back of the male head intact, it can often be very effectively treated with any of the various forms of hair transplantation surgery. The condition progresses differently in women, with generalized thinning that very rarely leads to total baldness, but a common pattern is usually readily distinguishable.
What are the underlying causes of androgenetic alopecia?
Androgenetic alopecia is frequently called “genetic pattern hair loss” because it is believed to be the result of a genetically-inherited follicular sensitivity to dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a by-product of the androgen testosterone. In those who have inherited this sensitivity, DHT causes the hair follicles to shrink, shortening the lifespan of each individual hair follicle and eventually causing the affected follicles to stop producing cosmetically acceptable hair. While it was once believed that this genetic trait was linked to the X-chromosome, and so inherited exclusively from the mother’s genes, the latest research suggests that this is not the case. The genes of both the male and the female parent play a role in determining whether a particular individual will be prone to androgenetic alopecia.
Are there any other factors that can exacerbate androgenetic alopecia?
Because the androgens involved play a role in the sexual development of both men and women, androgenetic alopecia can affect either gender. In men, it has been associated with several medical conditions including coronary heart disease and enlargement of the prostate. Additionally, prostate cancer, disorders of insulin resistance (such as diabetes and obesity), and high blood pressure (hypertension) have been found to correlate with androgenetic alopecia. In women, it may be triggered or exacerbated by a change in hormone levels during menopause. Other changes in the body’s hormonal balance, such as those caused by starting, stopping, or changing birth control or by the introduction of high doses of testosterone, and especially DHEA, during hormone replacement therapy may also speed up thinning in certain individuals. Treating hair loss in women tends to be much more complicated, as estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone levels all play a contributing role alongside underlying DHT sensitivity.
Every patient is unique, and androgenetic alopecia is only one of the many potential causes for hair loss, so please contact The Griffin Center of Hair Restoration to schedule a consultation with Dr. Edmond Griffin or Dr. Ashley Curtis in order to get a complete and comprehensive diagnosis of your individual alopecia so that we can determine exactly what treatment options will best suit your specific needs. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ to get the latest news in hair restoration and research.