Alopecia means loss of hair or baldness. There are a few different ways it can affect people, but the most common is small patches of hair loss, like circles, appearing on the scalp: this is called Alopecia Areata.
There are other types, like Alopecia Totalis, where all the hair on the head is lost. Alopecia Universalis, where all the hair on the body (including the eyebrows, groin area and under the arms) disappears. However, these forms of Alopecia are very rare.
In the UK, Alopecia Areata is estimated to affect about 15 in 10,000 people. Most family doctors will have seen at least one case, and you probably know of a friend or family member who has had it.
Alopecia Areata can occur at any age but about half of cases come on in childhood and 80& cases come on before the age of 40 years. Men and women are equally affected. The condition tends to be milder if it comes on at an older age.
Apart from the patch, the scalp usually looks healthy and there is no scarring. Occasionally, there is some mild redness, mild scaling, mild burning or slightly itchy feeling on the bald patches, but usually the person doesn’t feel anything.
What does Alopecia Areata look like?
The typical pattern is for one or more bald patches to appear on the scalp. These tend to be round in shape and about the size of a large coin. They develop quite quickly. Often the person with it hasn’t noticed it at all, particularly if they have long hair which is covering the bald patch.
When a bald patch first develops, it is difficult to predict what will happen. The following are the main ways it may progress:
Understandably most people with Alopecia Areata become self-conscious, anxious or distressed by the appearance of the hair loss. It can help a lot though to stay calm and stay positive because the hair regrows by itself in almost all cases.