Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss. Alopecia areata causes the immune system to produce antibodies that attack the body's healthy hair follicles. Hair loss may be acute or chronic, and it may recur.
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The cause of alopecia areata is unknown. It is likely due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. It most typically affects patches of the scalp. Variations of alopecia areata can cause hair loss on the entire scalp, in men's beards, or over the entire body.
Alopecia areata is more common in people under 30 years old. Other factors that may increase your chance of alopecia areata include:
Alopecia areata causes sudden, patchy hair loss. Hair loss occurs mainly on the scalp or in the beard.
Your will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. In most cases, the doctor will be able to make the diagnosis based on the exam. There are tests that can confirm alopecia areata or rule out other causes of your hair loss.
Your bodily fluids, hair, and tissues may be tested. This can be done with:
Your scalp may need to be viewed closely. This can be done with dermoscopy.
Treatment may include a waiting period. During this time, you and your doctor will evaluate your hair loss for progression or remission. Spontaneous remission occurs in nearly half of cases.
If your hair loss persists or progresses, talk to your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options include:
Medications to treat alepecia areata may vary depending on your age and include:
Surgical procedures may be an option if medications do not work. Some of these include:
Other ways to treat alopecia areata include:
American Academy of Dermatology
National Alopecia Areata Foundation
Alopecia areata. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: http://www.aad.org/dermatology-a-to-z/diseases-and-treatments/a---d/alopecia-areata. Accessed August 5, 2015.
Alopecia areata. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116937/Alopecia-areata. Updated May 5, 2016. Accessed September 30, 2016.
Alopecia areata. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Alopecia_Areata/default.asp. Updated April 2015. Accessed August 5, 2015.
Mitchell AJ, Douglass MC. Topical photochemotherapy for alopecia areata. J Am Acad Dermatol. 1985;12(4):644-649.
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Taylor CR, Hawk JL. PUVA treatment of alopecia areata partialis, totalis and universalis: audit of 10 years' experience at St John's Institute of Dermatology. Br J Dermatol. 1995;133(6):914-918.
Types of hair loss. American Hair Loss Association website. Available at: http://americanhairloss.org/types_of_hair_loss/introduction.asp. Accessed August 5, 2015.
Last reviewed September 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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