Diseases & Conditions
What is baldness?
Baldness is loss or lack of hair, usually from the top of the head. It may also occur on other parts of the body where hair grows. Baldness is usually part of the aging process. Some diseases and drugs may also cause baldness.
Hair loss may be either temporary or permanent, depending on the cause.
There are several types of baldness:
How does it occur?
Hereditary baldness is passed through the family. It is most common in men, but sometimes occurs in women.
Local hair loss is usually patchy and confined to certain areas. It may result from:
alopecia areata, a disease characterized by well-defined bald patches, whose cause is unknown
ringworm, a fungus infection
radiation therapy for cancer
a hot comb or hair dryer
repeated use of a hairstyle such as tight pigtails or cornrows
nervous, repeated hair pulling
permanent skin damage from burns or serious skin diseases.
General hair loss occurs when all of the scalp hair enters a resting phase at the same time and then falls out. This may be caused by:
stressful conditions such as an acute illness or disease
drug treatment for cancer
certain prescription drugs
Alopecia universalis is a rare and severe form of baldness that results in permanent loss of all body hair, including eyebrows, eyelashes, and hair in the pubic area and armpits. The cause is unknown.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms may include:
lack of hair regrowth after loss
abnormal hair breaking and brittleness
fine, dull hair lacking normal shine.
How is it diagnosed?
Your doctor may examine you for symptoms of skin disease and lack of vitamins or hormones. He or she will ask about any patterns of hair loss in your family.
How is it treated?
There are both nonsurgical and surgical treatment options.
Your doctor may recommend medication to stimulate hair growth or prescribe medication to treat an illness causing hair loss. Ask your doctor about side effects of these medications.
Minoxidil is a medication you can put on the bald spots. It is the only FDA-approved medication for treating hereditary baldness. Other medications, including an antifungal drug, are being studied for their effects on hair loss.
After several months about one third of men using minoxidil daily have some hair regrowth, although the hair may not look exactly like the original hair. This treatment must be continued daily for the hair to remain.
Your hair grows back naturally in 6 to 12 months after a case of alopecia areata, but hair loss may recur. Your doctor may try to speed up regrowth by injecting your scalp with steroids or having you apply minoxidil solution directly to the bald area.
Your doctor may prescribe an antifungal medication if an illness such as ringworm is the cause of your hair loss. Hair generally grows back in the affected areas.
Hair transplant surgery involves moving sections of skin with hair from one part of the scalp to another. The results may last a few years or remain permanent.
How long will the effects last?
Baldness may be temporary and last only a few weeks or months. It can be permanent, however, especially if it is hereditary or the result of skin damage from a disease or burn.
How can I take care of myself?
If you have noticeable hair loss or a change in skin condition, consult your doctor. In the meantime, eat balanced meals, get plenty of rest, and try to reduce stress. This can help you recover faster if an underlying illness is the cause of baldness.
Avoid irritating the area affected by baldness to help the healing process.
Avoid using nonprescription hair-growth products other than minoxidil. These products are generally not effective and may in fact harm the skin and hair.
What can be done to help prevent baldness?
There is nothing you can do to prevent most types of baldness. However, you can help delay normal balding by maintaining general good health.