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    Alopecia areata

    Alopecia totalis; Alopecia universalis

    Alopecia areata is a condition that causes round patches of hair loss. It can lead to total hair loss.

    Causes

    The cause of alopecia areata is unknown. About 1 in 5 people with this condition have a family history of alopecia.

    Alopecia areata is thought to be an autoimmune condition. This occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys healthy body tissue.

    Alopecia areata is seen in men, women, and children. In a few people, hair loss may occur after amajor life event such as an illness, pregnancy, or trauma.

    Forms of alopecia include:

    • Alopecia areata -- patches of hair loss
    • Alopecia totalis -- complete loss of scalp hair
    • Alopecia universalis -- total loss of all body hair

    Symptoms

    Hair loss is usually the only symptom. A few people may also feel a burning sensation or itching.

    Alopecia areata usually begins as one to two patches of hair loss. Hair loss,is most often seen on the scalp. It may also occurin the beard, eyebrows, and arms or legs in some people.

    Patches where hair has fallen out are smooth and round in shape. They may bepeach-colored. Hairs that look like exclamation points are sometimes seen at the edges of a bald patch.

    • Loss of all scalp hair (alopecia totalis), often within 6 months after symptoms first start.
    • Loss of all scalp and body hair (alopecia universalis).

    Exams and Tests

    Ascalp biopsy may be done. Several blood tests may also be done to check forautoimmune conditions and thyroid problems.

    Treatment

    If hair loss is not widespread, the hair willoften regrow in a few months without treatment.

    Even for more severe hair loss, it is not clear how much treatment can help change the course of the condition.

    Common treatments may include:

    • Steroid injection under the skin surface
    • Medicinesapplied tothe skin including corticosteroids, immunotherapy, and minoxidil
    • Ultraviolet light therapy

    Wigs may be used to hide areas of hair loss.

    Outlook (Prognosis)

    Full recovery of hair is common.

    However, some people may have a poorer outcome, including those with:

    • Alopecia areata that starts at a young age
    • Eczema (atopic dermatitis)
    • Long-term alopecia
    • Widespread or complete loss of scalp or body hair

    Possible Complications

    When to Contact a Medical Professional

    Call your health care provider if you are concerned about hair loss.

    References

    Sperling LC, Sinclair RD, El Shabrawi-Caelen L. Alopecias. In: Bolognia JL, Jorizzo JL, Schaffer JV,
    et al, eds. Dermatology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2012:chap 60.



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      A Closer Look

        Review Date: 11/20/2012

        Reviewed By: Kevin Berman, MD, PhD, Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.

        The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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