What is Alopecia Areata (AA)? (including Alopecia Totalis (AT) and Alopecia Universalis (AU))

Alopecia Areata (AA) is understood to be an autoimmune condition. The immune system which normally protects the body from foreign invaders, such as viruses and bacteria, mistakenly attacks the hair follicles. This is what leads to hair loss.

What does Alopecia Areata look like?

Alopecia Areata typically starts as one or more small, smooth bald patches on the scalp. The hair loss can remain as patchy hair loss or can continue until all hair on the scalp is lost (Alopecia Totalis or AT) or complete loss of hair from the body (Alopecia Universalis or AU). Please note that most cases of Alopecia Areata do not develop to the 'totalis' or 'universalis' stage. Alopecia Barbae is a type of Alopecia Areata which affects facial hair only.

Is Alopecia Areata permanent?

Alopecia Areata does not cause permanent hair loss. The hair follicles are not destroyed and hair does have the possibility to re-grow. Many people with Alopecia Areata do experience full regrowth. However once the condition has developed to Alopecia Totalis or Alopecia Universalis, the chances of full regrowth become smaller. It is quite common for people with Alopecia Areata to experience hair loss on and off throughout their life.

Can Alopecia Areata be treated?

Treatments may be offered by a Dermatologist but unfortunately none are guaranteed to work. Many people experience spontaneous regrowth without treatment. 

Treatments are more likely to be effective in milder cases of alopecia areata with small patches of hair loss. No treatments are universally effective. 

Is there a cure for Alopecia Areata?

No, currently there is no cure for alopecia areata. 

Is Alopecia Areata hereditiary?

It is understood that genetics plays a role in alopecia areata. Around 20% of people with alopecia areata will have a family member with the condition. 

Those with alopecia areata are more likely to have family members with other autoimmune or atopic conditions, such as asthma, eczema, hay fever, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, psoriasis, thyroid disease and vitiligo.

Further Reading

The British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) has produced Patient Information Leaflets for all types of skin conditions, including types of alopecia. The BAD Patient Information Leaflets provide details of treatment options available.