What is Alopecia, Types, Symptoms and Causes

What is Alopecia, Types, Symptoms and Causes

Alopecia is a common hair loss condition affecting millions of people worldwide. About 6.7 million people in the US have Alopecia while 700,000 people have some form of it. It can have a significant impact on an individual’s emotional well-being and self-esteem.

Or it may indicate an underlying health condition. Research also suggests that alopecia is more common among women. In this article, you’ll explore the world of alopecia, exploring its causes, types, and available treatment options.

Definition: What is Alopecia

Alopecia refers to the loss of hair from any part of the body where hair usually grows. It is derived from the Greek word “Alopex,” meaning “fox,” as foxes often shed their fur in patches. The condition can manifest in various ways and types. It can range from small bald patches to complete hair loss across the scalp (alopecia totalis) or the entire body (alopecia universalis).

Types of Alopecia

Androgenetic Alopecia: It is commonly known as male or female pattern baldness. This is the most common type of hair loss. It affects both men and women. Androgenetic alopecia is primarily caused by genetic and hormonal factors, leading to a progressive thinning of hair over time.

Alopecia Areata: This is an autoimmune disorder. This means it occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the hair follicles, resulting in round, smooth bald patches. It can affect any hair-bearing area of the body, including the scalp, eyebrows, and beard. In some cases, alopecia areata can progress to alopecia totalis or alopecia universalis.

Traction Alopecia: This form of hair loss is caused by excessive pulling or tension applied to the hair. Traction alopecia commonly occurs due to hairstyles exerting constant tension on the hair follicles, such as:

  • Tight braids
  • Ponytails
  • Hair extensions

Prolonged traction can damage the hair follicles, leading to hair loss in the affected areas.

Telogen Effluvium: This type of hair loss is usually temporary and occurs due to a disruption in the hair growth cycle. It can be triggered by:

  • Physical or emotional stress
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Hormonal changes
  • Certain medications
  • underlying medical conditions

Telogen effluvium leads to the shedding of hair from all over the scalp rather than specific patches.

Symptoms of Alopecia

Alopecia can present with various symptoms depending on the type and severity of the condition. Here are some common symptoms associated with alopecia:

Hair Loss

The primary symptom of alopecia is hair loss. The extent and pattern of hair loss can vary depending on the type of alopecia:

  • Androgenetic Alopecia: In men, it typically begins with a receding hairline and thinning at the crown of the head, resulting in a horseshoe-shaped pattern of hair loss. In women, it often leads to generalized thinning of hair on the scalp without complete baldness.
  • Alopecia Areata: It presents as round or oval-shaped patches of hair loss. These patches are usually smooth, without scarring or inflammation. They can appear anywhere on the body. But most commonly affect the scalp, eyebrows, beard, or eyelashes.
  • Alopecia Totalis: It involves the complete loss of hair on the scalp.
  • Alopecia Universalis: It leads to the loss of hair on the entire body, including the scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes, and other body hair.

Patchy Bald Spots

Alopecia areata often manifests as distinct, well-defined bald patches. These patches can vary in size and may merge with adjacent patches over time, resulting in larger areas of hair loss.

Thinning Hair

In androgenetic alopecia, the hair gradually becomes thinner and weaker. Thus results in a decrease in hair density over time. The hair may appear fine, lack vitality, and be more prone to breakage.

Excessive Shedding

In some cases of alopecia, there may be excessive hair shedding during grooming, washing, or combing. This can be especially noticeable in telogen effluvium, a type of alopecia caused by significant physical or emotional stress.

Changes in Scalp

In certain types of alopecia, the scalp may exhibit signs of inflammation, irritation, or scaling. For example, alopecia areata may have small, round patches with redness or mild itching. Infections, such as fungal infections, can also cause scalp symptoms.

Psychological Impact

Hair loss can have a significant psychological impact on individuals, affecting their self-esteem, body image, and overall emotional well-being. Feelings of self-consciousness, social anxiety, and depression may accompany the visible changes caused by alopecia.

Causes of Alopecia

The causes of alopecia vary depending on the type of hair loss. Here are some of the common causes of alopecia:


One of the primary causes of hair loss is genetics. Androgenetic alopecia is inherited and can be passed down through generations. It involves gradual thinning of hair and is more common in men but can also affect women.

Hormonal Imbalances

Hormonal changes can contribute to hair loss. For example, in men, an excess of dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a hormone derived from testosterone, can shrink hair follicles. Thus leads to hair thinning and eventual loss. Some hormonal changes can also trigger temporary hair loss in women:

  • Pregnancy
  • Childbirth
  • Menopause

Autoimmune Disorders

In alopecia areata, the exact cause is unknown. But it is believed to be an autoimmune condition with genetic and environmental factors. Stress and certain infections may also play a role in triggering alopecia areata.

Medical Conditions and Treatments

Certain medical conditions and treatments can cause hair loss. Examples include:

Scalp Infections: Fungal infections such as ringworm can lead to hair loss in affected areas. Hair usually regrows ater infection treatment.

Thyroid Disorders: An overactive or underactive thyroid gland can disrupt the normal hair growth cycle, resulting in hair loss. Treating the underlying thyroid condition often resolves the hair loss problem.

Cancer Treatments: Chemotherapy drugs and radiation therapy can also affect rapidly dividing cells, including hair follicles. Hair loss is a common side effect of cancer treatment. But it is usually temporary, and hair often regrows after treatment.

Nutritional Deficiencies

Inadequate intake of essential nutrients, such as iron, zinc, vitamins A, E, and D, and proteins, can contribute to hair loss. Nutritional deficiencies may be due to poor diet, certain medical conditions, or malabsorption issues.

Physical and Emotional Stress

Significant physical stressors like surgery, severe illness, or trauma can disrupt the hair growth cycle, leading to temporary hair loss. Emotional stress, such as prolonged psychological distress, anxiety, or grief, can also trigger hair loss.

Hair Care Practices

Certain hair care practices can contribute to hair loss, particularly when they involve excessive tension, heat, or harsh chemicals. Examples include tight hairstyles like braids, ponytails, or cornrows, as well as frequent use of hot styling tools and chemical treatments like perming or straightening.

It’s important to note that the causes of alopecia can vary from person to person. Sometimes multiple factors can cause hair loss. Consult your healthcare professional or a dermatologist to determine the specific cause and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

Treatment Options


Several medications are available to treat alopecia, depending on the type and severity of hair loss. For androgenetic alopecia, minoxidil (Rogaine) and finasteride (Propecia) are commonly prescribed. Corticosteroid injections, creams, or oral medications may be used for alopecia areata to suppress the immune response. Topical corticosteroids or immunosuppressive medications can also be beneficial. In some cases, immunotherapy or targeted therapies can benefit.

Hair Transplantation

This surgical procedure involves transplanting healthy hair follicles from a donor area (usually the back of the head) to the affected area. It is an effective treatment option for androgenetic alopecia and can provide natural-looking results. However, it may not be suitable for all individuals and requires careful consideration.

Wigs and Hairpieces

For individuals experiencing significant hair loss, wigs, hairpieces, or hair extensions can help restore confidence and provide a temporary solution. They come in various styles, colors, and materials to match personal preferences.

Lifestyle Changes

Making certain lifestyle modifications can contribute to maintaining healthy hair. This includes adopting a balanced diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and proteins, managing stress levels, avoiding harsh hair treatments and styles, and ensuring proper hair and scalp care.


Alopecia is a complex condition that can significantly impact an individual’s life. Understanding its causes, types, and available treatment options is crucial for both those affected and their support networks.

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