07 Jan Understanding Alopecia Areata
Many people experience some hair loss or thinning as they age. It is a natural part of getting old and is to be expected later in life. However, some people experience extreme patches of hair loss throughout their life, starting early on. Many of these cases are caused by the autoimmune disease alopecia areata. It is a relatively common disease affecting about 2% of Americans in the United States. Many people affected by alopecia areata develop the autoimmune disease during childhood and learn to deal with it throughout their lives. It does not discriminate and can affect people of any age, gender, or race.
Alopecia areata is an interesting disease because while no cure currently exists, hair follicles remain active, and patients can make a full recovery without the need for treatment. In most cases, patients suffering from the disease lose patches of hair about the size of a quarter on their heads or bodies. In more extreme cases, the disease can lead to complete loss of hair on the head or body. Fortunately, there are not a lot of immediate side effects that come from the loss of hair. However, it can take a mental and emotional toll on the affected person.
While we do know alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease, it is not known what prompts the body to attack itself. The disease occurs when white blood cells, which normally fight infection, begin attacking the hair follicles. There is a strong belief that alopecia areata is genetic in nature. About 20% of people with the disease also have a family member diagnosed with alopecia areata as well.
While there is currently no known cure for alopecia areata, many patients who experience only a few patches of baldness tend to make a spontaneous recovery within a year. However, some patients are not as lucky and go on to experience full baldness. Currently, the best form of treatment to help symptoms is the use of corticosteroids. These help stop the immune system from attacking the body, thus lessening the symptoms. There are also medications that can help with hair regrowth. While alopecia areata is not an immediate threat to a person’s physical health, it can cause traumatic emotional and mental scarring in those affected. Fortunately, stem cell therapy has shown some promise in helping those suffering from the disease.
Alopecia areata is a frustrating autoimmune disease to deal with because the cause is largely unknown, and it is difficult for patients to tell if they are going to be one who recovers spontaneously, or if the disease will progress and worsen. The mental and emotional toll the disease takes on a person can be very draining and damaging. While it is believed a genetic component exists, there is still a lot of research that needs to be done to understand the cause of alopecia areata fully and to determine a cure for those affected by the disease. Fortunately, stem cells may be able to help stop the worsening of the disease and even repair damage caused by alopecia areata in the future.