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Alopecia, which is a type of hair loss, is caused by a variety of medical conditions. Alopecia has different names, depending on its underlying cause. Cases can be caused by everything from lupus and chemotherapy to vigorous hair styling.
Alopecia caused by autoimmune diseases such as lupus, is known as alopecia areata. Other causes of alopecia include stress alopecia, where severe physiological or emotional stress cause diffuse loss of hair on the scalp, and traction alopecia, which is related to vigorous hair styling. Other causes of alopecia include toxic alopecia. This type of hair loss occurs when hair follicles are exposed to toxic substances such as chemotherapy. Another type, called androgenic alopecia is usually a hereditary condition, also known as female or male pattern baldness.
Typically, causes of alopecia in women involve hormonal fluctuations. Usually, women who experience androgenic alopecia will experience an overall thinning and sparsness of their hair. For example, women may notice that in places on their scalp where five hairs once were, only two will be present. In addition, when women experience androgenic hair loss, it is most commonly noticed on the crown or around the hairline. This type of hair loss, generally becomes more pronounced around age 40, and can be permanent.
In the case of alopecia areata, where autoimmune function plays a role, treatment is usually dependent upon the severity of the hair loss. Generally, treatment for this condition includes systemic medications such as injections of steroids. Injecting cortisone into the scalp is usually performed only when mild hair loss is evident, manifested by very small bald patches. This procedure is not painful, however, the patient might feel slight tingling at the injection site. Typically, new growth of hair is evident after a few weeks, however, the injections may cause small scalp depressions called dells, which are temporary.
Sometimes, similar treatments are used to treat hair loss, even though the causes of alopecia differ. One such example is the use of topical minoxidil. Generally, using minoxidil can be used in most causes of alopecia, however, it is not typically used when hair loss is the result of chemotherapy treatment, as hair growth will resume after treatment ends. Typically, minoxidil is applied to bald patches twice a day, and sometimes the application is followed by a cortisone cream application. Although minoxidil is only intended in the treatment of hereditary hair loss, it may be effective in other forms of alopecia as well.
Occasionally, common treatments for alopecia are not successful. In these cases, patients have other alternatives, such as choosing to wear a hairpiece and hair transplantation. Generally, surgical hair restoration procedures are safe, however, they are not without risk. Typically, any invasive procedure puts the patient at risk for injury and infection. Although the risks are small, the patient and physician need to discuss proper post-operative care and management of the surgical site in order to prevent complications.