Young woman with alopecia
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Alopecia: A Look at Abnormal Hair Loss
Our hair grows in cycles, and at any given time, a small percentage of our hair follicles are at a point in the growth cycle where the hair is shed in preparation for new hair to begin growing.
Normal individuals lose some hair every single day. While previous estimates on what constitutes 'normal' hair loss have been quoted as high as 100 to 150 hairs a day, recent studies show that number to actually be closer to 35 to 40 hairs a day. This means that you will see evidence of some shedding of hairs as part of your normal grooming routine.
Yet what concerns us here isn't the normal shedding of the hair, but rather abnormal hair loss, also known as alopecia [al-oh-PEE-shah]. Alopecia is commonly found in three forms: androgenic alopecia [an-druh-JEN-ik al-oh-PEE-shah], alopecia areata [al-oh-PEE-shah air-ee-AH-tah], and postpartum alopecia. Each of these types of alopecia is characterized as follows:
Androgenic Alopecia:
Androgenic alopecia, also called Androgenetic [an-druh-je-NET-ik] alopecia, is the most common form of alopecia and is the result of genetics, aging, and hormonal changes that combine to cause changes in the hair follicle. These changes result in the miniaturization of the terminal hair into vellus hair. The condition can found in individuals from their teens and upward in age. It is frequently seen by the age of forty.
By the age of thirty-five, some forty percent of both men and women show some degree of hair loss. With men, androgenic alopecia is often evidenced by the thinning of the hair in the front and at the crown of the head, progressing to the traditional horseshoe shaped fringe of hair around the sides of the head. When it occurs in men, androgenic alopecia is referred to as 'male-pattern baldness' and the condition affects approximately forty million men in America alone.
In women, androgenic alopecia progresses as a generalized thinning of the hair all over the crown and top areas of the head. Among American women, some twenty million cases of androgenic alopecia are reported.
Alopecia Areata:
Alopecia areata is a skin disorder wherein the body's autoimmune system suddenly begins to attack the hair follicles. The hair loss from alopecia areata is typically seen in patches on the head and or body, and can progress to the complete loss of hair from the head (called alopecia totalis) and can even spread to result in loss of all hair on the head and body (called alopecia universalis).
Alopecia areata can occur in both men and women of any race, and any age, although it usually begins in childhood. In men, about ten percent of the cases of alopecia areata result in loss of facial hair (called alopecia barbae).
Alopecia areata is a fairly common disease affecting about 1.7 percent of the world's population, with over 4.7 million cases reported in the United States. Its progression is often sporadic and can seem capricious. Patches of hair can be lost in one location, and then re-grow normally, and be lost again.
It might also seem as though the patches "move" over time, as an area of lost hair can re-grow while new patches of loss form on other places. Other people may find that their alopecia areata begins as a small spot of hair loss, and suddenly spreads, with or without re-growth in previously affected areas. Still others find that their alopecia only ever affects a single, small area.
Although alopecia is a common disease, it is not widely known, and even though it is not life-threatening, its sporadic nature and tendency toward recurrence often has profound psychological effects on the sufferer. It can impact the person's life and ability to function at school, work, and in social settings.
Postpartum Alopecia (& Telogen Effluvium):
Another common form of hair loss, postpartum alopecia is caused by hormonal changes during the course of a pregnancy. The changes cause an alteration in the growth pattern of the hair follicles. There is usually very little sign of these changes during the pregnancy itself, but rather a sudden and very excessive loss of hair from three to nine months after the birth of the child.
While this is often very traumatic for the new mother suffering from the hair loss, the hair's growth cycle typically returns to normal within a year after the end of the pregnancy.
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