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Alopecia Areata

An autoimmune, often reversible disease in which loss of hair occurs in sharply defined areas.

PubMed Health Glossary
(Source: NIH - National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases)

About Alopecia Areata

Alopecia areata is considered an autoimmune disease, in which the immune system, which is designed to protect the body from foreign invaders such as viruses and bacteria, mistakenly attacks the hair follicles, the structures from which hairs grow. This can lead to hair loss on the scalp and elsewhere.

In most cases, hair falls out in small, round patches about the size of a quarter. In many cases, the disease does not extend beyond a few bare patches. In some people, hair loss is more extensive. Although uncommon, the disease can progress to cause total loss of hair on the scalp (referred to as alopecia areata totalis) or complete loss of hair on the scalp, face, and body (alopecia areata universalis).

What Causes It?

In alopecia areata, immune system cells called white blood cells attack the rapidly growing cells in the hair follicles. The affected hair follicles become small and drastically slow down hair production. Fortunately, the stem cells that continuously supply the follicle with new cells do not seem to be targeted. So the follicle always has the potential to regrow hair....Read more about Alopecia Areata NIH - National instititue of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

Treatments for alopecia areata, alopecia totalis and alopecia universalis

There is no good trial evidence that any treatments provide long‐term benefit to patients with alopecia areata, alopecia totalis and alopecia universalis.

Biologic and Nonbiologic Systemic Agents and Phototherapy for Treatment of Chronic Plaque Psoriasis [Internet]

To examine the comparative effectiveness of biologic systemic agents versus nonbiologic systemic agents or phototherapy, on an individual drug level, for treatment of chronic plaque psoriasis (CPP) and to determine patient and disease characteristics that modify outcomes of interest.

Personal Wireless Device Use for Wound Care Consultation: A Review of Safety, Clinical Benefits and Guidelines [Internet]

Wounds may result from physical, mechanical, or thermal damage, or develop from an underlying medical disorder and include conditions such as pressure ulcers, lacerations, burns, arterial or venous ulcers, and dermatological disorders. Wound care involves accurate assessment and appropriate management strategies and may require specialist consultations which may not always be easily accessible or may be time consuming. Telemedicine offers an alternative option. It is the delivery of health care through telecommunication between the patient with or without the local health care provider and remotely situated specialists. Technology used for telemedicine can range from a simple telephone conversation with the health care provider to complex systems with elaborate consultations with remote specialists at various locations, through live audio or videoconferencing. Telemedicine has been used in various clinical areas such as psychiatry, ophthalmology, and dermatology. Teledermatology consultation has been shown to be reliable and comparable to conventional clinic-based care. Imaging of the wound, uploading images and transferring them to the appropriate location play an important role in wound care involving telemedicine. The advent of high resolution digital cameras, computer technology, and specialized software has revolutionized the process of documentation of wounds. In recent times, personal wireless devices such as mobile phones are increasingly being used as a telemedicine technology. Mobile phones now have in-built cameras and data transfer capabilities and are often referred to as smartphones. The transmission of medical images and other data over mobile phone networks may facilitate remote medical consultations with specialists and enhance wound care management. However the safety and clinical efficacy of this modality of care needs to be assessed before it may be put in to widespread use.

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Summaries for consumers

Treatments for alopecia areata, alopecia totalis and alopecia universalis

There is no good trial evidence that any treatments provide long‐term benefit to patients with alopecia areata, alopecia totalis and alopecia universalis.

Terms to know

Alopecia Areata Totalis
The total loss of hair on the scalp.
Alopecia Areata Universalis
The loss of all hair from the head and the body.
Autoimmune Disease
Disease that results when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's own tissues. Examples include multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and systemic lupus erythematosus.
Cicatricial Alopecia
A group of rare disorders that destroy hair follicles. The follicles are replaced with scar tissue, causing permanent hair loss.
Hair Follicle
The hair follicle is a tube-shaped sheath that surrounds the part of the hair that is under the skin and nourishes the hair.
Hair Loss (Alopecia)
The lack or loss of hair from areas of the body where hair is usually found.

More about Alopecia Areata

Photo of an adult woman

Also called: Alopecia circumscripta, Circumscribed alopecia, AA

Other terms to know: See all 6
Alopecia Areata Totalis, Alopecia Areata Universalis, Autoimmune Disease

Keep up with systematic reviews on Alopecia Areata:

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