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Alopecia Areata

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:


Alopecia Areata


Alopecia areata happens when the immune system attacks healthy tissue that holds the hair follicles in place. This leads to patchy hair loss.

Hair Loss.

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The exact cause for the change in the immune system is not known. It is most likely a combination of genes and factors in the environment.

Risk Factors

This problem is more common in people under 30 years of age. People who have a personal or family history of these problems are also at higher risk:

  • Alopecia areata
  • Being more likely to get allergic skin diseases or allergic reactions
  • Having another autoimmune disorder, such as lupus


The main symptom is sudden, patchy hair loss. It is most common on the scalp but can also happen in beards, eyebrows, or anywhere on the body. Rarely, a person may lose all hair on the body.

Hair loss may happen once, over a long time, or it may come and go.


The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. It will focus on the areas of hair loss. This is often enough to make the diagnosis.

If the diagnosis is unclear, a skin biopsy may be done.


There is no cure. Hair will grow back on its own for most people. If hair does not grow back, the goal of treatment is to help hair regrow. Choices are:


There are no known guidelines to prevent this health problem.


Medicines may be used to help regrow hair. Some may be given by mouth, applied to the scalp, or injected into the affected area. Examples are:

  • Corticosteroids
  • Minoxidil
  • Kinase inhibitors
  • Medicine to suppress the immune system




  • Alopecia areata. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/hair-and-scalp-problems/alopecia-areata.
  • Alopecia areata. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/alopecia-areata.
  • Alopecia areata. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: https://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Alopecia_Areata/default.asp.
  • Messenger AG, McKillop J, et al. British Association of Dermatologists' guidelines for the management of alopecia areata 2012. Br J Dermatol. 2012 May;166(5):916-926.
  • 07/21/2023 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance https://www.dynamed.com/condition/alopecia-areata: FDA Label, Food and Drug Administration; June 2023.


  • Daniel A. Ostrovsky, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.