What is Androgenetic Alopecia?

Hairs on the scalp grow in tufts, usually of 3-4 hairs. In Androgenetic Alopecia, the hair tufts on the gradually shrink, so the number of hairs in each tuft decrease (this is called ‘miniaturisation’). Eventually, when all the hairs in the tuft are gone, the skin of the scalp appears between the hairs. Androgenetic Alopecia is often referred to as 'Male Pattern Hair Loss' or 'Female Pattern Hair Loss'. It is the most common type of hair loss, affecting approximately 50% of men over the age of 50 and around 50% of women over the age of 65. Androgenetic Alopecia can also affect younger men and women.

What does Androgenetic Alopecia look like?

Androgenetic Alopecia tends to look different between males and females. In men, the typical pattern of hair loss is a receding hair line with loss of hair from the top and front of the head, often in a classic M-shaped pattern. In women, the usual pattern of hair loss is thinning at the crown of the head, with the frontal hairline over the forehead remaining. It is less likely that a woman will experience total baldness as a result of Androgenetic Alopecia.

How is Androgenetic Alopecia diagnosed?

Your doctor will usually diagnose Androgenetic Alopecia by examining the pattern of hair loss on the scalp. They may also perform blood tests to measure hormone levels, serum ferritin and thyroid function.

Is Androgenetic Alopecia permanent?

The hair follicles affected by Androgenetic Alopecia are permanently damaged.  There are treatments which can help to delay the process, but hairs that have been lost will not grow back.

What causes Androgenetic Alopecia?

Androgenetic Alopecia is caused by both genetic and hormonal factors, many of which are not yet understood. This form of hair loss is related to hormones called androgens, particularly an androgen called dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Increased levels of androgens such as DHT in hair follicles can lead to a shorter cycle of hair growth and the growth of shorter and thinner strands of hair. Follicles can also stay in the resting phase for longer periods of time.

Although researchers suspect that several genes play a role in Androgenetic Alopecia, however, to date, only changes in one gene, the androgen receptor gene, have been linked to development of Androgenetic Alopecia. Androgen receptors allow the body to respond appropriately to dihydrotestosterone and other androgens. Studies suggest that changes in the androgen receptor gene lead to more active androgen receptors in hair follicles. It remains unclear, however, how these genetic changes increase the risk of hair loss in men and women with Androgenetic Alopecia.

Can Androgenetic Alopecia be treated?

As with other types of alopecia, there is no cure for Androgenetic Alopecia. However, the effects of Androgenetic Alopecia may be slowed down with treatments. For men, potential treatments include oral finasteride and/or topical minoxidil solution or foam, and for women topical minoxidil solution or foam. Hair transplantation can be used to improve the appearance of Androgenetic Alopecia (click here for more information about hair transplants).

Is Androgenetic Alopecia inherited?

It is difficult to say whether Androgenetic Alopecia is inherited or not, because there are many genetic and environmental factors likely to be involved. However, this condition does tend to cluster in families and having a close relative with patterned hair loss appears to be a risk factor for developing the condition.

Additional Information:

The British Association of Dermatologists have produced patient information leaflets about male and female pattern hair loss.

CLICK HERE TO READ THE BAD PATIENT INFORMATION LEAFLET FOR MALE PATTERN HAIR LOSS

The British Hair and Nail Society also provide some useful information about the condition:

CLICK HERE TO VISIT THE BHNS WEBSITE