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What is Alopecia?

The condition of alopecia is defined as being: "Baldness, partial or complete, congenital or acquired".

The word alopecia is latin meaning baldness in any form. Pattern baldness affects both men and women. The word alopecia is most commonly associated with the disorders known as alopecia areata, totalis and universalis.

Alopecia affects the hair follicle and causes partial or total hairloss. While this condition is not life threatening, hairloss can be responsible for various types of emotional and psychological trauma. Alopecia sufferers come from all walks of life. It can strike either sex, any ethnic or age group.

There are three kinds of alopecia. The first is Alopecia areata which manifests itself as partial hairloss. Someone with this condition will find his or her hair falling out in small, isolated clumps. The rest of the head may be covered with perfectly healthy hair. Alopecia totalis involves the loss of most or all of the hair on the head. Most men who complain of what is sometimes referred to as androgenic or male pattern baldness have this condition. "Androgenic" describes the various male hormones that control the appearance and development of masculine characteristics, like facial hair. Alopecia Universalis involves the loss of all body hair. This type of drastic hairloss involves the lack of eyebrows, eye lashes, facial and body hair as well as complete hairloss on the top of the head.

Adults who suffer from any of these types of hairloss can attest to the pain and anxiety associated with their condition. However, a young alopecia patient, a grade school student for example, can sustain far more hardship and emotional scarring than any adult. While it is culturally "acceptable" for mature men and even women to experience hairloss, the pecking order of a child's peer group can
inflict devastating ridicule on any of its group that somehow seems different.

And nothing could be more different, and therefore unacceptable to the group than a child who has lost his or her hair.

Hairloss is responsible for depression, low self-esteem, and a general sense of inadequacy. Alopecia therefore is a debilitating condition, in spite of the fact that there are no adverse physical effects above and beyond the condition of sudden, rapid hairloss.

At present, there is no known cure for Alopecia. Researchers theorize that it is an autoimmune disorder. If this were true, the patient's body would be producing antibodies which attack the follicle, therefore causing the rapid hairloss. Accordingly, effective treatment for the disease is limited to purely cosmetic alternatives.

An estimated 2.5 million Americans suffer from alopecia areata and it is estimated that 1% of the U.S. population will be stricken with it by the age of 50.

Research for a cure is carried on by a variety of privately and publicly funded groups. Among them are the National Alopecia Areata Foundation and the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, a division of the Nation Institute of Health.

For more information, contact the National Alopecia Areata Foundation at PO Box 150760, San Rafael, CA 94915, or phone them at 415-456-4644. The NAAF's fax number is 415-456-4274.

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