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WHAT IS ALOPECIA AREATA?

Alopecia areata is a condition characterized by hair falling out in small, random patches.  While the autoimmune disease generally affects hair on the scalp it can also affect body hair, though that is far less common.

WHAT CAUSES ALOPECIA AREATA?

While the condition is quite easy to identify, scientists have not been able to figure out exactly what causes it.  Obviously, because it is an autoimmune disease, people with a family history of autoimmune disorders may be more likely to develop Alopecia areata.  Common autoimmune conditions include things like Type-1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

In an autoimmune disease, the body’s normal immune response malfunctions and attacks random parts of the body as though it were an intruder. In Alopecia areata, then, the malfunction causes the body’s immune system to attack the hair follicles, causing the random hair loss.  Scientists also currently believe that certain environmental factors may also trigger Alopecia Areata.

stages of hair

HOW DOES A DOCTOR DIAGNOSE ALOPECIA AREATA?
Obviously, your doctor can make a quick assumption about this condition by looking at the characteristic patches of hair loss. However, there are also medical tests—like a scalp biopsy—which can look more closely at the follicles, for example, to determine if they have been affected by the autoimmune response malfunction.  Tests can also rule out, for example, fungal infections or other conditions which might contribute to the hair loss.

Similarly, autoimmune diseases can be detected through a simple blood test.  Of course, each blood test looks for different antibody abnormalities so although the blood test is simple, you may need to take multiple tests to find the autoimmune disease (or other condition) responsible for the hair loss. Blood tests, for example, might also look for:

  • iron levels
  • thyroid hormones
  • free testosterone
  • total testosterone

IS THERE A CURE FOR ALOPECIA AREATA?

Just as we do not quite know that direct cause of Alopecia areata, there is also no known cure.  However, Capilia treatments—which can involve medication, hormones, and perhaps lifestyle changes—can reduce risk for future hair loss.  The most popular form of medication is minoxidil (brand name: Rogaine) but other types of medications can include:

  • steroid injections
  • corticosteroid creams
  • photochemotherapy

In addition, doctors might also recommend alternative healing therapies which can often be used in addition with medical treatments. These might include:

  • aromatherapy
  • acupuncture
  • vitamin/mineral supplements
  • other herbal supplements

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