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Alopecia areata

Definition

Alopecia areata is a condition that causes round patches of hair loss.

Alternative Names

Alopecia totalis; Alopecia universalis

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

The cause of alopecia areata is unknown. About a fifth of people with this condition have a family history of alopecia. Alopecia areata may sometimes occur with autoimmune diseases.

Forms of alopecia include:

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

Symptoms

  • Loss of all scalp and body hair (alopecia universalis)
  • Loss of all scalp hair (alopecia totalis)
  • Roundish patches of hair loss on the head
  • Smooth, hairless scalp in the affected areas

Hairs that look like exclamation points are sometimes seen at the edges of a bald patch.

Signs and tests

On occasion, a scalp biopsy may be performed. Several blood tests may be done, because alopecia areata may occur with autoimmune conditions.

Treatment

No fully effective treatments are available. Typical therapy includes:

  • Steroid injection under the skin surface
  • Topical corticosteroids
  • Ultraviolet light therapy

Irritating drugs may be applied to hairless areas to cause the hair to regrow.

Expectations (prognosis)

Full recovery of hair is common. However, some people may have a poorer outcome, including those with:

  • Alopecia areata at a young age
  • Eczema (atopic dermatitis)
  • Long-term alopecia

Complications

Permanent hair loss is a possible complication of alopecia areata.

Calling your health care provider

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you are concerned about hair loss.


Review Date: 10/3/2008
Reviewed By: Kevin Berman, MD, PhD, Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. 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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