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NHS Choices Condition

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Dr Andrew Messenger, a consultant dermatologist at Royal Hallamshire Hospital, Sheffield, tells us what he would want to know if he was diagnosed with alopecia areata.

What is it?

Alopecia areata affects hair growth, and occasionally the nails as well. People with the condition usually have patches of hair loss, most often on the scalp.

It’s thought that alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease, which means the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues. In this case, the hair roots are attacked and this causes the hair to fall out.

Have I inherited the disease?

Possibly. There’s a genetic tendency to develop alopecia areata and one in four or five people with the condition will have another family member who is affected by it.

Which parts of my body will it affect?

Hair loss can affect any part of the body and its extent varies. My patients tend to have more severe hair loss than just a few small patches. They may have lost hair from the eyebrows, eyelashes, face and body, as well as the head.

Will my hair grow back?

For most people with just a little hair loss, their hair will regrow in six to 12 months. Probably eight or nine out of 10 will recover spontaneously within a year. These people will usually experience hair loss again later in their lives.

In a small proportion or people, maybe one or two out of 10, alopecia areata causes a more persistent hair loss. Occasionally, it will result in permanent baldness.

What are the treatments?

There are a number available for alopecia areata, but none of them cure the condition and none work for everybody. The simplest treatment is to use a strong steroid lotion on the head, which is usually applied once or twice a day. There’s some evidence that this helps hair regrowth.

A more effective treatment for patches of hair loss is to inject a steroid into the affected area. I use that method quite often. It stimulates regrowth of hair in most people within a few weeks (see 'treatment' section for more information).

What can I do to disguise my hair loss?

If you are female and have limited hair loss, there are a number of things you can do. Cosmetics can be used to draw on eyebrows and many beauty therapists can offer a semi-permanent tattooing procedure. This lasts up to six years and can include lip liner, lipstick, eyebrows and eyeliner. With more extensive hair loss, hair pieces or wigs can be used and you can get an annual voucher for two wigs free from the NHS.

Where can I go for support?

Some people benefit from seeing a clinical psychologist. Many find that the most useful source of help is the patient support groups. There are a number throughout the UK (see Useful links).

view information about Hair loss on www.nhs.co.uk »

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