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Common hair loss conditions and causes

The word Alopecia is the medical phrase for loss of hair and can apply to small areas or complete baldness. Alopecia can occur in a variety of forms.

We all know that some medical treatments can lead to hair loss. Chemotherapy, for example, involves elements that are ‘cell toxic’, necessary in order to attack cancer cells effectively.
Not all chemotherapy drugs cause hair to fall out. Some result in no loss, some cause hair to thin, while others do produce complete hair loss. Hair loss can happen suddenly, although it is usually more gradual and begins within two or three weeks of starting treatment.

Terms used to describe Alopecia include:

AREATA – Small bald circles resulting from different causes.

TOTALIS – An extension of areata leading to complete head hair loss. The condition is one of the most dramatic and potentially distressing types of balding. All hair follicles have entered a ‘dormant’ phase and this can sometimes affect eyelashes and eyebrows as well.

UNIVERSALIS – The loss of all body hair as a result of either physical or medical causes.

POST PARTUM – At any time in the first four months after giving birth, some women may experience loss of hair. Usually this will occur in two stages: alopecia areata – small round patches that can appear anywhere; then diffuse – with the scalp losing up to 50% of its hair giving a wispy appearance.
Hormones readjusting to pre-natal levels cause these conditions and recovery to a full head of hair usually takes from 3-12 months.

TELEGEN EFFLUVIUM and DIFFUSE ALOPECIA

These refer to the same condition, a percentage loss all over the scalp, causing the hair to look sparse and wispy. There can be a hair reduction of up to 60%, usually caused by the hair growth mechanism being ‘switched off’ and hair falls out without reaching the end of the normal life span. This condition and its cause are not well understood.
It can follow emotional distress or trauma and may not appear for up to six months after the event. Recovery occurs in some cases.

MALE PATTERN BALDNESS

Research has confirmed that this condition is inherited (genetic) rather than hormonal. Those with a genetic disposition to MPB are affected to different degrees.┬áIn essence, an enzyme affects the activity of the naturally occurring ‘male’ hormone testosterone and turns it into dehydrotestosterone, which is eight times more active. This results in an over-stimulation of cell reproduction, causing faster hair growth but substantially reducing its lifespan.

FEMALE PATTERN BALDNESS

This is the inherited (genetic) loss of hair in women but unlike men, women do not lose the hair in specific patterns on the top of their heads. Instead hair thins to a degree that is noticeable.
Usually there are hormone changes involved at the onset of menopause when the levels of testosterone rise against those of the ‘female’ hormone oestrogen.

CIRATRICIAL ALOPECIA

This is the scarring of the scalp from a number of possible causes including medical or physical ones. The term applies to permanent hair loss as a result of the destruction of the hair follicles.

TRICHATILOMANIA

Self-inflicted loss is caused by compulsive tweaking and pulling hair. This may result in minor or extensive bald patches. There are increasing incidences of the condition and it is considered a sign of stress and in some cases self dislike. A wig or hairpiece can be used to disguise the damage and also to help the recovery of hair. Counselling and professional support is advisable.