Alopecia is the medical term for hair loss, which can affect people of all ages. There are different types of alopecia:
This type is caused by the male hormone, dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which is made from testosterone. It is more common for men to be affected by this type of hair loss, but women can get it too, usually after menopause.
This is when hair loss may come and go. It occurs mainly in young people (teenagers and young adults) and is thought to be caused by a problem with the immune system.
This is hair thinning, rather than hair loss. It is caused by stress or by an adverse reaction to medication. It usually corrects itself.
This is when scarring of the scalp destroys the hair follicles. Without follicles, hair cannot grow. This can occur as a result of various medical conditions, for instance, shingles.
Hair loss can also be caused by chemotherapy.
Treatments for Hair Loss
Your treatment will depend on the type of alopecia you have. If you have androgenic alopecia, you may be given a hormone blocking medication called finasteride that works by preventing testosterone from converting into the hormone dihydrotestosterone. This oral treatment is only suitable for men.
There is also a lotion that you can rub into your scalp to promote hair growth. It is called Rogaine (or may be known by other trade names such as minoxidil, avacor or mintop, depending on the country).
Rogaine was originally developed to treat high blood pressure, but doctors noticed it had a side-effect of inducing hair growth so it began to be used as an alopecia treatment. It can be used by women too.
If your alopecia is caused by scarring, it may be permanent but can sometimes be corrected by surgery.
Alopecia Areata is normally treated with corticosteroids to suppress the over-active immune response. This can be given as an ointment to put on the affected area. It is not known whether this treatment is actually beneficial.
Corticosteroids can be given by injection and this is thought to be more effective for treating small areas of alopecia. The injections can stop your immune system from attacking your hair follicles and this will allow them to grow back, but long-term use can result in thinning of your skin and a decreased ability to fight infections.
Hair loss caused by stress or chemotherapy is temporary and the hair will grow back.
Some people choose not to have treatment or are not suitable candidates for treatment so they opt to wear a wig instead. There are human hair wigs available that look more realistic if you are concerned about your appearance.
Hair Loss, NHS Choices. Web. 16 September 2011. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Hair-loss/Pages/Introduction.aspx
Minoxidil, Rogaine, Medicine Net. Web. 16 September 2011. http://www.medicinenet.com/minoxidil/article.htm
Corticosteroids, The Cleveland Clinic. Web. 16 September 2011. http://my.clevelandclinic.org/drugs/corticosteroids/hic_corticosteroids.aspx
Joanna is a freelance health writer for The Mother magazine and Suite 101 with a column on infertility, http://infertility.suite101.com/. She is author of the book, 'Breast Milk: A Natural Immunisation,' and co-author of an educational resource on disabled parenting.
She is a mother of five who practised drug-free home birth, delayed cord clamping, full term breast feeding, co-sleeping, home schooling and flexi schooling and is an advocate of raising children on organic food.
Reviewed September 16, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith