Approximately 20 percent of alopecia areata cases are related to heredity.

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Alopecia Treatments

The best treatment options for androgenetic alopecia include:

  • Learning to live with hair loss (talking to a professional counselor can help)
  • Using hair styles (a good cut can make a big difference) and cosmetic techniques to diffuse hair loss
  • Some combination of hair additions (wigs, extensions) and hair replacement surgery

Many people with this disorder also use minoxidil, the only FDA-approved medication for safe and effective treatment of both male and female pattern hair loss. Generally, minoxidil, available in both oral (by prescription) and topical (over-the-counter) forms, is more effective at retarding hair loss than at stimulating growth, but many people say they experience both.

Alopecia Areata

According to the American Hair Loss Council, alopecia areata also affects (to some degree) millions of men, women and children. This non-scarring, inflammatory condition is usually temporary -- it's experienced in episodes by almost 90 percent of those who have it. Alopecia areata is generally thought to be an autoimmune disease in which cells from an individual's own immune system mistakenly prevent hair follicles from producing hair fiber. In many cases, the body will use its own management system to reverse the problem in time. However, those affected even temporarily by the disease can experience low self-esteem and depression and may need help from their families and friends.

The National Alopecia Areata Foundation says that approximately 20 percent of alopecia areata cases are related to heredity, as opposed to androgenic alopecia, in which heredity plays a more prominent role.

There is no diagnostic test for alopecia areata, but an experienced dermatologist can usually identify it. (For a more definitive diagnosis, doctors sometimes need to take a small skin biopsy for microscopic examination.) The disorder causes patchy hair loss, often appearing as small, smooth patches on different areas of the scalp (or, occasionally, on other parts of the body). These patches can appear suddenly, sometimes within 24 hours, and some people report feeling tingling and/or pain at the site. Other types of alopecia areata include:

  • Alopecia totalis - An advanced form of alopecia areata that results in total hair loss of the scalp
  • Alopecia universalis - Another form of advanced alopecia areata that causes hair loss over the entire body
  • Traction alopecia - Hair loss caused by physical stress and tension on the hair, such as prolonged use of hair weaving or braiding ("Corn rows" or braids done too tightly on weak hair can cause permanent hair loss.)

We'll take a look at treatment options for alopecia areata in the next section.­