Alopecia is a medical term meaning the lack of hair. As the hair is such an important factor in the way we look, any abnormality or absence of hair can be immensely upsetting to the sufferer.

Alopecia must not be confused with male pattern baldness. Male pattern baldness occurs in men post puberty, with a very variable onset depending largely on genetics. It intends to start with a receding hairline at the front but is also mixed with a bald patch at the crown of the hair in many people.

Alopecia however is the absence of hair and there are several different patterns.

Patchy alopecia (Alopecia areata) is the name given to the condition where patches of baldness appear usually on the head, but can affect elsewhere on the body. An example of patchy alopecia would be scarring alopecia following either trauma or burns.

Alopecia totalis is the name given to the condition where all of the hair on the top and sides of the head head is absent. Interestingly, in such people, the facial hair may be preserved and so a beard or moustache could be grown.

Alopecia universalis is the name given to total alopecia of the whole body - heads, trunk and limbs.

The causes of alopecia are varied and include drugs, infection, radiotherapy, trauma and "emotional shock". Sometimes, and most distressingly, there can be no known cause.

The treatments for alopecia are many and varied and really relate to trying to identify the cause. For people suffering from the debilitating condition, specialist advice should be sought as early as possible for diagnosis and to discuss the treatment options that might be available.

Such treatment might include minoxidil, which is a drug that was originally invented to decrease the blood pressure and as a side-effect was found to increase hair growth. As such it is now free to be prescribed for this side-effect rather than the blood pressure lowering effect.

In addition, a lot of publicity has been attributed to follicular transplant where living hair follicles are transplanted from one area of the body to the head. This is a very painstaking and labour-intensive job which, in carefully selected patients, can produce a very pleasing result.

The study of hair growth is called trichology and a specialist in hair growth and treatments is called a trichologist.

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