When a person suffers from complete loss of scalp hair, it is called Alopecia totalis. It is different from Alopecia areata, in which a person loses hair in small patches. In Alopecia totalis, the hair loss is complete: the hair follicle is destroyed and hair does not re-grow. While hair on the head is affected, Alopecia totalis may affect the eyebrow and eyelashes as well. It also differs from Alopecia universalis, in which the scalp and body are affected.
The condition can be caused by disorders of the body’s auto-immune system or genetic causes. It has no cure and the rate of occurrence is about 1 in 2000 people. In this disorder, the body’s immune system attacks the hair follicle, but it is not destroyed completely, hence a cure is possible. If it is due to genetic causes, cure may not be possible.
The hair loss in the Alopecia totalis condition can be sudden or gradual. People of all ages can be affected, but it is seen more in men than women.
Symptoms or Alopecia totalis vary. It may begin with hair thinning and loss of hair on the scalp accompanied by irritation. It may be triggered by shock or psychological stress, in which case it will occur quickly and lead to rapid hair loss. It is sometimes accompanied by brittle nails that break easily.
As I have mentioned earlier, genetics and the body’s auto-immunity system are the known causes of Alopecia totalis. The body’s immune system protects the body from diseases, but a disorder can be triggered in which the system thinks that the hair follicle is a foreign invasion and starts fighting it. It then attacks healthy cells of the body including hair follicles. It is triggered by psychological stress or shock, or certain kinds of diseases. Genetics play a part as members of certain families are known to suffer from this condition.
Diagnosis and treatment
The doctor will examine the head and scalp to diagnose the condition. A complete medical history will also be taken to investigate about genetic factors, including presence of the condition in other family members. In some cases blood samples or a biopsy may be required.
Treatment options are few. The root cause of Alopecia totalis is usually not known, hence treatments include treating the symptoms. The doctor may prescribe medications for correcting the defence system of the body. Hair re-growth is attempted by immunotherapy, steroids, or other medications, but they are not without side effects.
For hair re-growth, natural methods and oils may be prescribed. Diet errors must be corrected and the patient is advised good, nutritious diet rich in Vitamin E to help the hair. In other cases, wigs or a hair transplant may be prescribed.