Alopecia refers to hair loss from any part of the body for any reason. There are several types, ranging from thinning hair to complete baldness.
Diffuse alopecia (thinning scalp hair) is common among seniors, both men and women alike.
Androgenic alopecia, also known as "male pattern baldness," can strike younger as well as older people. In spite of its masculine name, women can get this condition, too. It's genetic, so having a family history can predict if you might inherit it. In both men and women, it's linked to having an excess of male hormones (androgens) around the hair follicles, which can block hair growth. Women are more likely to develop androgenic alopecia after menopause, when they have fewer female hormones.
Most cases of hair loss are due to androgenic alopecia. Approximately 50% of men by the age of 50 years and 15% of women before the time they reach menopause have some degree of androgenic alopecia.
Alopecia areata typically causes a few temporary bald patches on the scalp. It tends to run in families and often strikes in childhood. The hair loss seems to be part of an immune system problem, in which the body's natural defences mistakenly attack its own tissue. Once the hair has fallen out in certain spots, new growth is suppressed for weeks or months. This type of alopecia sometimes affects people who have other "autoimmune" diseases like thyroid disease, lupus, or pernicious anemia. Sometimes, it may produce complete scalp baldness (alopecia totalis) or total loss of body hair (alopecia universalis).
Telogen effluvium is a form of hair loss often associated with pregnancy, medication use, life stress, or surgery. It results in a larger amount of hair cycling into the resting (telogen) state where the hairs are ready to fall out. This type of alopecia usually improves on its own after several months.
Scarring alopecia is a form of hair loss that results in scarring, where scarred areas will not regrow hair. This type of alopecia may have several causes. For example, fungus can leave permanent bald patches.
There are many different potential causes of alopecia. Hair loss - temporary or permanent - can be triggered by any number of factors. These can include allergies, irritants, toxins, burns, injuries, and infections. We also know that certain medications (especially anabolic steroids), chronic kidney failure, radiation, and chemotherapy can cause hair to fall out. Sometimes, hair loss may be due to a vitamin A overdose, iron deficiency anemia, a malfunctioning thyroid gland, fever, or pregnancy.
Thinning hair is the most obvious symptom of androgenic alopecia. In men, it begins at the crown, temples, or both. They also tend to get a "high forehead" that's associated with a receding hairline. This is less common in women. While men can go completely bald, women don't usually lose all the hair on the crown of the head.
Alopecia areata appears as sudden losses of small round patches of hair, usually from the scalp, but sometimes from the face or body. The fingernails may be lightly pitted or stippled. The disease often comes and goes in cycles, with regrowth in between.