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Alopecia areata is a fairly common, non-contagious, non-scarring hair loss disease that affects more than 1% of
men, women and children in the United States. In alopecia areata, round patches of hair loss appear suddenly. The
hair loss is often discovered by a barber or hairdresser. The hair-growing tissue stops making hair and the hair then
falls out from the roots.
It is currently accepted that alopecia areata is caused by an
auto-immune response of your own body. The theory holds
that sometime after birth, we are exposed to an "insult" (a
virus or disclosure of a previously secluded protein) against
which our immune system defends itself. Here's the problem:
the portion of protein exposed by this insult closely resembles
an intrinsic protein sequence within the hair follicles' cells.
The end result is that the immune system attacks the hair
follicle in a case of mistaken identity.
Whatever the initiation factor it need not be long-lasting—
rather a short, sharp block may be just enough to tip the
balance of the immune system into auto-immunity. Once an
auto-immune disease is initiated it can be self-perpetuating.
Alopecia areata is not contagious, is not caused by foods, and
is not the result of nervousness. The first episode of alopecia
areata is most likely to occur in the late teens to early twenties
- particularly for women. Statistical research shows that on
average 20% of people with alopecia areata report having at
least one other blood relative with the condition.
There is currently no conclusive diagnostic test for alopecia
areata. Alopecia areata is characterized by the sudden
appearance of a round or oval patch of non-scarring and
painless hair loss with spontaneous remissions and
exacerbations. The patches are well defined. A few people
complain of itching in the scalp before or during the loss of
hair. The scalp is the most commonly affected area, but