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Ask the Medical Expert Archives 2000-2004

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June 2002

Q. I am afraid that my 19-year-old male friend has alopecia. A few months ago he shaved his head bald because he was losing chunks of his hair. Recently all of his facial hair has turned white, his eyelashes have fallen out, and now his arm hair is falling out. He says he feels fine physically. If it is not alopecia, what else might it be?

A. Alopecia areata, hair loss in a partial or patchy distribution, is thought to occur from an autoimmune reaction in which the body's immune system forms antibodies to its own normal tissue, in this case the hair follicles. This condition occurs in men and women and can be quite disturbing. The reason for this occurrence is unknown. Treatment is aimed at restoring hair growth in the area involved, or suppressing the immune reaction. Topical medication such as Rogaine usually only help if used in the early stages of the condition. Under the treatment of a dermatologist, injection of a cortisone preparation into the area of hair loss often helps.

The condition you are describing sounds much more extensive however, and needs further investigation. Start with a visit to your family doctor for a basic exam and lab tests. There may be an underlying problem of the endocrine (gland) system such as an underactive thyroid that needs treatment.



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