Alopecia Areata: Causes & Symptoms

by Meenakshi Nagdeve last updated -

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Alopecia areata afflicts millions of people around the world, but it is often not diagnosed because it initially appears as simple bald spots on the scalp. For this reason, it is often referred to as spot baldness, and it resembles the natural loss of hair as people age.

What is Alopecia Areata?

Alopecia areata sometimes called as autoimmune alopecia is a hair loss related condition in which hair typically fall out in round patches. There are different types of alopecia, for example, male and female pattern baldness, and alopecia areata. These examples have different underlying causes; male and female pattern baldness is typically hormone-related, whilst alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease.

It can develop into two different forms of the disease if left untreated:

  • Alopecia totalis (AT): In this form the entire scalp becomes bald.
  • Alopecia universalis (AU): In this condition, all the hair on your entire body is lost.

Causes

  • Autoimmune condition: Alopecia areata is considered an autoimmune disease. In alopecia areata, the immune system mistakes healthy parts of its own body for foreign, damaging materials, and attacks the hair follicles. Hair follicles are cavities from where the hair grows. When the immune system attacks them, they reduce in size and then gradually stop producing new hair. This is what leads to hair loss. The precise cause of the condition is still unknown because scientists are unable to figure out why the immune system attacks the hair follicles. However, it’s been discovered that it generally occurs in people with a family history of autoimmune diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, etc. This is also the reason why some scientists believe genetics plays a role in alopecia areata.
  • Environmental factors: These also play a big role in triggering alopecia areata in people who are genetically prone to the disease.
  • Thyroid disorders: Alopecia areata is often associated with thyroid disorders because the hormonal balance in the body is key to stimulating or shutting off hair follicles and thyroid disorders throw your hormonal balance out the window! Since the condition can get worse in no time, it is very important to treat it before it gets out of hand.
  • Hormonal imbalance: Sometimes, psychological or situational factors can also cause small flare-ups of alopecia and hair loss due to an imbalance in hormone levels. Although, most of the times, they automatically regress and the hair grows back.

Symptoms

The most common symptoms of alopecia areata are as follows:

  • Tingling where the hair has been lost.
  • Uneven loss of hair, usually on one side of the scalp, happening over a short period of time.
  • Healthy hair near the bald patches can be pulled out easily.
  • Your fingernails may develop pitting.
About the Author

Meenakshi Nagdeve is a health and wellness enthusiast and started working on Organic Facts since 2012 and is currently responsible for managing it. She follows naturopathy and believes in healing with foods. She holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Management from IIM Bangalore and B. Tech in Metallurgical Engineering and Materials Science from IIT Bombay. Prior to this, she worked for a few years in IT and Financial services. In her free time, she loves to travel and taste different types of teas.

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