Alopecia areata is considered an autoimmune disease, in which the immune system, which is designed to protect the body from foreign invaders such as viruses and bacteria, mistakenly attacks the hair follicles, the tiny cup-shaped structures from which hairs grow. This can lead to hair loss on the scalp and elsewhere.
In most cases, hair falls out in small, round patches about the size of a quarter. In many cases, the disease does not extend beyond a few bare patches. In some people, hair loss is more extensive. Although uncommon, the disease can progress to cause total loss of hair on the head (referred to as alopecia areata totalis) or complete loss of hair on the head, face, and body (alopecia areata universalis).
Alopecia areata is just one cause of alopecia, or hair loss. Others include:
- Traction alopecia - a condition that occurs when ponytails or tight braids put so much stress on the hair that it falls out. If this happens repeatedly it can cause scarring and root damage that will prevent hair from growing back.
- Cicatricial alopecia - a group of related disorders in which inflammation destroys the hair follicles and replaces them with scar tissue. Also referred to as scarring alopecia, this cause of permanent hair loss is often seen in skin conditions such as discoid lupus erythematosus and lichen planus.
- Androgenic alopecia - also called male-pattern or female-pattern baldness, a condition in which the growth phase of the normal hair cycle shortens, making hair more fragile. Over time hairs falls out easily leaving a characteristic pattern of thinning or baldness.
- Trichotillomania - a mental condition in which people have an uncontrollable urge to pull out their hair. This can lead to patchy bald spots on the head.
- Telogen effluvium - hair loss related to a change in the normal hair cycle. This may be caused by an emotional shock - such as the death of a loved one - or physical shock, such as high fever, illness or surgery.
In alopecia areata, immune system cells called white blood cells attack the rapidly growing cells in the hair follicles that make the hair. The affected hair follicles become small and drastically slow down hair production. Fortunately, the stem cells that continuously supply the follicle with new cells do not seem to be targeted. So the follicle always has the potential to regrow hair.
Scientists do not know exactly why the hair follicles undergo these changes, but they suspect that a combination of genes may predispose some people to the disease. In those who are genetically predisposed, some type of trigger - perhaps a virus or something in the person's environment - brings on the attack against the hair follicles.
Who Is Most Likely :
Alopecia areata affects nearly 2 percent of Americans of both sexes and of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. It often begins in childhood.
If you have a close family member with the disease, your risk of developing it is slightly increased. If your family member lost his or her first patch of hair before age 30, the risk to other family members is greater. Overall, one in five people with the disease has a family member who has it as well.
Hair Loss a Symptom : Alopecia areata is not a life-threatening disease. It does not cause any physical pain, and people with the condition are generally healthy otherwise. But for most people, a disease that unpredictably affects their appearance the way alopecia areata does is a serious matter.
The effects of alopecia areata are primarily socially and emotionally disturbing. In alopecia universalis, however, loss of eyelashes and eyebrows and hair in the nose and ears can make the person more vulnerable to dust, germs, and foreign particles entering the eyes, nose, and ears.
Alopecia areata often occurs in people whose family members have other autoimmune diseases, such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disease, systemic lupus erythematosus, pernicious anemia, or Addison's disease. People who have alopecia areata do not usually have other autoimmune diseases, but they do have a higher occurrence of thyroid disease, atopic eczema, nasal allergies, and asthma.
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Dr Harshad Raval MD [Homeopathy]
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