Alopecia affects men, women, and children. Learn what is alopecia and the many causes of hair loss.
The medical term for hair loss is alopecia and it’s a disruption of the normal hair growth cycle. Most are familiar with male hair loss, and men with male-patterned hair loss are probably used to all the bad jokes. But many others, including men, women, and children, also suffer from alopecia hair loss as the result of a number of more serious health conditions than just aging. Often, an unusual amount of hair in the hairbrush each day is the first sign that it’s time for a visit with your doctor.
Autoimmune Causes of Alopecia
Autoimmune diseases, such as alopecia areata, can cause patchy to complete hair loss over the entire body. Autoimmune diseases are those in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the body. In alopecia areata, the immune system attacks the hair follicles as if they were an infection to be killed. Alopecia areata is unpredictable in that it affects each person differently. Some may have small patches of hair loss on the head, while others loss all of their hair from head to toe. Then the hair may grow back until another attack of hair loss occurs. The National Alopecia Areata Foundation reports that two percent, or about 4.7 million people, have the autoimmune disease alopecia areata and many are children.
Thyroid conditions, which can have an autoimmune cause such as with Grave’s disease, can cause both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism, and both can cause hair to fall out in clumps. Thyroid problems are most common in women, and therefore a primary cause of hair loss in women.
Hormones control all functions of the body, including hair growth. In both men and women, a hormone imbalance can cause hair loss. In men, the imbalance is typically testosterone related. In women, a thyroid hormone imbalance, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and/or birth control may be the likely cause.
Genetic Causes of Alopecia
The medical term for genetic, or inherited, hair loss is androgenetic alopecia. This is your typical hair loss usually associated with aging, although genetics may start the process as early as the teen years. In men, who are the most commonly affected, the thinning starts at the front hairline and top of the head reports the University of Maryland Medical Center. In women, the thinning starts at the top of the head, often along the natural part of the hair, but is not noticeable along the hairline. Androgenetic alopecia takes place slowly over several years.
The clinical term for scarring alopecia is cicatricial alopecia and there are several different forms. This type of hair loss is rare and the causes are not well understood, although it is known to sometimes occur in lupus patients. In all forms and causes, the hair follicles are damaged and scarred permanently. Biopsys of the affected area are necessary to make a diagnosis.
An unusual amount of stress on the body can affect hair growth and cause hair to fall out. The stress can be emotional or physical, such as the loss of a loved one, or serious illness. After recovering from a serious flu virus, you may notice your hair sheds more than usual. This is usually a temporary form of alopecia hair loss, and will resolve itself once the stress on the body and/or mind has lessened.
Poor Nutrition and Dieting
Before considering that latest fad or crash diet, do consider how healthy such a diet really is. Bodies need healthy foods throughout the day to provide the right balance of vitamins and minerals. Crash diets and some fad diets starve the body of these nutrients and one of the first places you may see this is in the loss of your hair. Like illness or emotional distress, poor nutrition stresses the body and the lack of nutrients means your body does not have the building blocks or energy it needs to make or grow new hair. Therefore old hair falls out and is not replaced.
There are a number of treatments for alopecia. But first the cause must be found. This may involve a serious of blood tests and skin biopsies. Once the cause of the alopecia is determined, the doctor can advise on a treatment plan. Often a combination of treatments is used to treat the cause and hair follicles directly.
Alopecia may come and go, or be a permanent condition making treatment for alopecia a lifelong battle. Many patients, once they learn what is alopecia and the cause of their hair loss, stop fighting it and instead look for stylish wigs and cosmetic solutions. But custom made wigs made with natural looking human hair are expensive, especially for children. Since children grow, play, and hang upside down on monkey bars, they need a well made prosthetic wig that will stay on and look good. The many places to donate hair do make wigs for kids suffering from alopecia.