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Living with Alopecia

Being diagnosed with alopecia areata may be confusing or scary, but understanding more about it can help ease anxiety.

What is Alopecia Areata?

Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks hair follicles. This results in patchy hair loss, but people with alopecia areata are otherwise healthy. Sometimes, hair loss may be more extensive than just patches.

It is more commonly diagnosed in women than men, but alopecia can affect people of all sexes, races, and ages.

Types of Alopecia

There are many different types of alopecia areata, but there are three main kinds:

  • Alopecia Areata

  • Alopecia Totalis

  • Alopecia Universalis

Alopecia areata is the most commonly reported form of this condition. It is characterized by hair loss in patches on the scalp. (Image: Actress May Calamawy)

Alopecia totalis refers to hair loss on the entire scalp. (Image: Representative Ayanna Pressley)

Alopecia universalis refers to hair loss on the entire body.

Symptoms of Alopecia

Hair loss

Alopecia usually manifests on the scalp, but it can occur on any part of the body that has hair. In some patients, patchy alopecia can progress into alopecia totalis or alopecia universalis.

Exclamation Point Hairs

These are short, broken hair where the base of the hair is narrower than the end of the hair. They are usually found around the edges of expanding patches.

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Nail Abnormalities

In some patients, there have been nail abnormalities associated with their alopecia. Pitting of the nail is most common, though other abnormalities may exist, as well.

Alopecia and Race

Despite its relevance, understanding the racial aspect of alopecia areata has largely been underreported. Numerous studies have reported a higher lifetime incidence of alopecia areata amongst Black and Hispanic women, in comparison to white women.

These differences may be due to differences in genetic susceptibility to developing alopecia or due to differences in socioeconomic disparities that lead to health disparities.

Living with Alopecia

Although people with alopecia are otherwise healthy, living in a society that places so much of women’s value on their appearance can make the condition mentally draining. Losing your hair may feel like losing a part of your identity. These feelings can lead to anxiety, shame, and social isolation, so it’s important to maintain strong social support to protect your emotional well-being. You don’t have to go through it alone.

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