January 03, 2007

Hair Problems - Alopecia


Our hair grows in cycles, and at any given time, a small percentage of our hairfollicles are at a point in the growth cycle where the hair is shed in preparation for newhair to begin growing.

Normal individuals lose some hair every single day. Whileprevious estimates on what constitutes 'normal' hair loss have been quoted as high as100 to 150 hairs a day, recent studies show that number to actually be closer to 35 to40 hairs a day. This means that you will see evidence of some shedding of hairs aspart of your normal grooming routine.

Yet what concerns us here isn't the normal shedding of the hair, but ratherabnormal hair loss, also known as alopecia Alopecia is commonlyfound in three forms: androgenic alopecia , alopeciaareata and postpartum alopecia. Each of these typesof alopecia is characterized as follows:

Androgenic Alopecia: Androgenic alopecia, also called Androgenetic alopecia, isthe most common form of alopecia and is the result of genetics, aging, and hormonalchanges that combine to cause changes in the hair follicle. These changes result inthe miniaturization of the terminal hair into vellus hair. The condition can found inindividuals from their teens and upward in age. It is frequently seen by the age offorty.

By the age of thirty-five, some forty percent of both men and women show somedegree of hair loss. With men, androgenic alopecia is often evidenced by the thinningof the hair in the front and at the crown of the head, progressing to the traditionalhorseshoe 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 affectsapproximately forty million men in America alone.

In women, androgenic alopecia progresses as a generalized thinning of the hairall over the crown and top areas of the head. Among American women, some twentymillion cases of androgenic alopecia are reported.

Alopecia Areata: Alopecia areata is a skin disorder wherein the body's autoimmune systemsuddenly begins to attack the hair follicles. The hair loss from alopecia areata istypically seen in patches on the head and or body, and can progress to the completeloss of hair from the head (called alopecia totalis) and can even spread to result inloss of all hair on the head and body (called alopecia universalis). Alopecia areata canoccur in both men and women of any race, and any age, although it usually begins inchildhood. In men, about ten percent of the cases of alopecia areata result in loss offacial hair (called alopecia barbae).

Alopecia areata is a fairly common disease affecting about 1.7 percent of theworld's population, with over 4.7 million cases reported in the United States. Itsprogression is often sporadic and can seem capricious. Patches of hair can be lost inone location, and then re-grow normally, and be lost again. It might also seem asthough the patches "move" over time, as an area of lost hair can re-grow while newpatches of loss form on other places. Other people may find that their alopecia areatabegins as a small spot of hair loss, and suddenly spreads, with or without re-growthin previously affected areas. Still others find that their alopecia only ever affects asingle, small area.

Although alopecia is a common disease, it is not widely known, and even thoughit is not life-threatening, its sporadic nature and tendency toward recurrence often hasprofound psychological effects on the sufferer. It can impact the person's life and abilityto function at school, work, and in social settings.

Postpartum Alopecia (& Telogen Effluvium): Another common form of hair loss, postpartum alopecia is caused by hormonalchanges during the course of a pregnancy. The changes cause an alteration in thegrowth pattern of the hair follicles. There is usually very little sign of these changesduring the pregnancy itself, but rather a sudden and very excessive loss of hair fromthree to nine months after the birth of the child. While this is often very traumatic forthe new mother suffering from the hair loss, the hair's growth cycle typically returns tonormal within a year after the end of the pregnancy.

There is a form of alopecia related to postpartum alopecia called telogeneffluvium, which refers to a condition in which the growthcycles of the hair follicles have shifted in such a way that abnormal numbers of folliclesmove into the telogen (or resting) phase of the growth cycle. The diffuse hair losscaused by telogen effluvium results in the loss of as many as 400 hairs a day - aroundten times the normal rate of hair loss. The resultant hair loss is often difficult to spotuntil about 25 percent of the hair has been lost. Telogen effluvium can be aggravatedby stress

Other Forms of Alopecia: While androgenic alopecia, alopecia areata, and postpartum alopecia are themost common causes of hair loss, there are others. These conditions include:

Endocrine conditions:

Drug-induced conditions:
Oral contraceptives
Vitamin A excess
Iron deficiency

Crash dieting
Severe chronic illnesses

The conditions listed above tend to result in diffuse hair loss (an even loss ofhair from all over the head) and are usually not identifiable as the cause of the hairloss. For this reason, any time you suspect that you are suffering from any abnormalhair loss, you should consult your physician for proper and thorough testing of possiblecauses and a clear diagnosis of the cause.

Through a wide range of medical testing - including blood-chemistry tests and skinbiopsies - your physician can determine what is causing your condition and offertreatment options and prognoses based on the findings. You should never attempt todiagnose the cause of abnormal hair loss on your own unless you are a qualifiedmedical professional. In some cases, abnormal hair loss can be symptomatic ofconditions that can have serious repercussions if not treated. In other words, rememberthat your goal is to cure the problem, not simply treat the symptom.

Adapted from Hairfinder