Alopecia, also called hair loss, refers to the partial or total loss of hair from the scalp or other parts of the body. Androgenetic alopecia, commonly known as male-pattern and female-pattern baldness or hair loss, is the most common form of alopecia. It affects men and women almost equally, and can begin at any age during or after adolescence.
In men, hair loss is gradual and begins at the hairline of the temples and forehead and makes its way, in some, to the top of the head. It can also present as a bald spot at the back or at the top of the head.
In women, hair typically thins on the top of the head. Most of the time, the hairline does not recede. Hair loss sometimes occurs during menopause.
Causes and triggers
While some of the causes that contribute to this condition are known, researchers do not yet fully understand the role played by these factors. Heredity or a hormonal imbalance affecting the hair follicle often plays a role.
Other factors can cause hair loss or affect regrowth, such as:
- Drugs, including cancer drugs
- Eating disorders
- Physical stresses (weight loss, pregnancy, childbirth, menopause, etc.)
- Psychological stresses
- Certain illnesses or health conditions:
- Alopecia areata
- Cutaneous lupus erythematosus
- Ringworm of the scalp
- Thyroid disorders
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or a tumour that produces male hormones in women
Female-pattern and male-pattern hair loss can be treated with medication. Minoxidil (Rogaine), which does not require a prescription from a doctor, is a treatment that is applied directly to the scalp. It usually takes several months to see results, and it must be used continuously. The moment application is stopped, the hair will start to fall out again.
Other prescription treatments are also available.
Hair transplantation surgery is a more permanent solution. This option is effective but costly.
When should I see a healthcare professional?
Consult your healthcare professional if:
- Round and irregular shaped patches of hair fall suddenly;
- Alopecia is present, combined with signs of body-wide disorder;
- You are a woman and alopecia occurs, along with:
- Development of some masculine characteristics such as a deepened voice, and hair in locations more typical of male hair growth;
- Irregular menstrual periods;