Baldness in women

Baldness in women

A large minority of men will experience what is known as male pattern baldness at some stage in their lives. While there is no doubt that some men will find it upsetting to lose their hair, at least they are in good company, given how common hair loss is among men.

For women, on the other hand, hair loss, especially when it is sudden, can often be very traumatising.

Unlike male pattern baldness, which manifests as a slow spread of the bald area across the scalp or temples over a number of years, when women are afflicted by baldness it tends to strike suddenly. This can lead to loss of confidence, stress and even depression.

What kinds of baldness affect women?

The type of baldness which can affect both sexes is known as alopecia areata. It is a common disease that results in the loss of hair on the scalp and elsewhere. It usually starts with one or more small, round, smooth patches. It occurs in males and females of all ages, but onset most often occurs in childhood.

In alopecia areata, the affected hair follicles become very small, drastically slow down production, and grow no hair visible above the surface for months or years. The scalp is the most commonly affected area, but any hair-bearing site can be affected alone or together with the scalp, including men’s beards (referred to as alopecia barbae) or the armpit and groin areas.

Some people develop only a few bare patches and hair can grow back within a year. In others, extensive patchy loss occurs, and in a few, all scalp hair is lost (referred to as alopecia totalis) or, hair is lost from the entire scalp and body (referred to as alopecia universalis).

What causes female baldness?

The specific cause of alopecia areata is unknown. A family history of alopecia is present in about a fifth of all cases. It is occasionally associated with auto-immune diseases. What is known is that it is not a nervous disorder. The myth that stress can cause all your hair to fall out is simply that — a myth.

Current research suggests that something triggers the immune system to suppress the hair follicle. It isn't known what this trigger is, nor is it known whether it comes from outside the body like a virus, or from within. Recent research indicates that some persons have genetic markers that may increase their susceptibility to develop alopecia areata.

Alopecia areata often occurs in families whose members have had asthma, hay fever, atopic eczema, or other auto-immune diseases such as thyroid disease, early-onset diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus erythematosus, vitiligo, pernicious anaemia, or Addison's disease.

Is there a cure for baldness in women?

No matter how widespread the hair loss, the hair follicles remain alive and are ready to resume normal hair production whenever they receive the appropriate signal. In all cases, hair regrowth may occur even without treatment and even after many years.

Alopecia areata is not medically disabling; women and men with alopecia areata are usually in excellent health. But emotionally alopecia can be very challenging, especially for those with extensive hair loss or for young children. Sometimes professional counselling is needed to develop one's self-confidence and positive self-image. Sadly, there is no known method of prevention.

Cortisone or steroid injections have been known to produce modest hair regrowth in some patients, but new bald patches may occur at any time. Alopecia is a disorder that patients learn to live with.

If you discover bald patches developing on your scalp or among your body hair, you should consult your GP immediately.

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