Alopecia universalis (AU) is a severe hair loss condition. In this type of alopecia, complete hair loss on the scalp and other body parts like the eyebrows and arms is experienced. Simply put, sufferers of alopecia universalis become hairless from head to toe.
Considered an autoimmune disease, alopecia universalis is the result of the immune system attacking the hair follicles as it mistakes them for foreign bodies. This results in hair root inflammation. Eventually, with repeated attacks, the hair becomes weak and falls.
Risk Factors for Alopecia Universalis
The exact reason why the immune system suddenly sees the follicles as invaders is still unknown. However, some believe that AU is the result of an interplay between genetics and environment. Furthermore, experts say that certain factors can trigger or increase one’s predisposition for the disease.
For one, those with relatives with alopecia universalis may be more likely to have it, too. The same thing has been observed in other types of alopecia like in alopecia areata (AA). Often characterised by smooth, patchy bald spots on the scalp, alopecia areata occurs in one out of five people with a family history of the disease. While AU may run in families, there is still no scientific evidence that this condition is hereditary.
Aside from genetics, stress is also seen as another trigger for AU. Anecdotal reports from some sufferers of alopecia universalis show that, prior to the onset of their condition, they were dealing with an enormous amount of stress. However, further studies are still needed to establish if there truly is a link between stress and AU.
What Are the Symptoms of Alopecia Universalis?
Oftentimes, alopecia universalis starts out as alopecia areata – coin-sized, patchy hair loss on the scalp. Hair may also be shed in other parts of the body, even the nose hair. The problem progresses until all bodily hair is gone. This can happen suddenly and at a rapid rate, with noticeable bald spots appearing in just a matter of days. Some sufferers completely lost their scalp hair in two to three months.
Aside from hair shedding, AU has no other symptoms. But some sufferers claim that they experienced burning or itching sensations in the affected areas. Just like in alopecia areata, nail pitting (when nails become distorted and brittle) may also occur in AU sufferers.
What Is the Treatment for Alopecia Universalis?
There is still no existing cure for alopecia universalis. But there are treatments available which can slow down the progression of the disorder.
Of course, before any treatment can be administered, specialists like dermatologists need to ascertain what the condition is. The diagnostic process involves examining the scalp and observing the hair loss pattern. The doctor may also take a small skin from your scalp for a biopsy. Lastly, to eliminate underlying medical conditions as the cause of the problem, a blood work may be done as well.
Once a diagnosis is made, a treatment plan is created based on the patient’s age, medical history and the severity of his/her hair loss. As mentioned earlier, treatments for AU are geared towards preventing the hair loss from rapidly happening. Aside from this, there are also medications which help promote hair growth in affected areas. With alopecia universalis, the hair follicles are not permanently damaged. Hence, there is still a chance for the hair to be restored. Medications which can help supress the immune system may also be prescribed.
In cases where treatment is successful, patients may experience hair regrowth in six months. However, it is not unusual for the hair to fall again.
While alopecia universalis is not contagious and not life threatening, it can still be debilitating for some sufferers as it can negatively affect their self-esteem. This is why, aside from seeking medical treatment, joining support groups is also very beneficial for those with alopecia universalis.
What is alopecia universalis? Talk to our specialists to learn more about this hair loss problem. Please call us at +353 (0)1 6793618.
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