Although it is more common after age 40, hair loss can occur at any age. In some cases, hair loss is temporary. In women, temporary hair loss often occurs during pregnancy or immediately after delivery. Stress, chronic illness, and exposure to toxic chemicals can also cause temporary hair loss. Alopecia androgenetic is the most common cause of permanent hair loss; the commonly used terms for this form of hair loss are male and female pattern baldness. According to Mayo Clinic, alopecia androgenetic accounts for approximately one-third of permanent baldness in women and men.
People who suffer from this type of alopecia have inherited the gene that causes it from one or both parents. The body's deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is hardwired to convert androgen, a male hormone, into dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Excessive amounts of DHT disrupt the normal functioning of the body's hair follicles. Initially, the new hairs that grow in are thinner. Eventually, the hair follicles stop producing new hairs, leading to bald spots.
The onset of male pattern baldness is characterized by a small bald spot on or near the crown of the head. Over time, the spot becomes larger and completely engulfs the scalp, sometimes leaving hair around the edges. Many men allow this hair to grow longer and attempt to disguise the condition of their head with the famous comb-over.
Generally, the symptoms and progression of female pattern baldness are slightly different. Most women first notice thinning of their hair at the crown and the hairline. As alopecia androgenetic progresses, the hair usually becomes thinner over the entire scalp. For reasons that scientists do not quite understand, unlike men, women with alopecia androgenetic rarely become completely bald.
Throughout history, people have tried a variety of methods and potions to prevent and treat hair loss. To date, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only approved two. Minoxidil, a liquid solution, is marketed under the trade name Rogaine®, for men and women, without a prescription. Some people with have success using it to prevent additional hair loss or to re-grow hair. It may take three months or more to see any results.
Propecia® is a prescription drug that has been used successfully to treat male pattern baldness in some people. Although it appears to decrease the progression of alopecia, some users complain that it causes impotence. Both treatments require lifetime use to retain new growth, a drawback that deters some victims of alopecia androgenetic.