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Diffuse alopecia describes the appearance of a particular type of hair loss disorder called alopecia areata. In most cases, the term refers to very small spots of lost or thinning hair across the entire scalp, but it may be used to describe similar patterns in facial or body hair as well. Men and women of any age can experience diffuse alopecia for reasons that are not well understood by doctors. It is suspected that the condition is an inherited autoimmune disease. Treatments in the form of corticosteroid injections, topical creams, and surgery are available to help slow the loss of hair and promote regrowth in patchy areas.
Alopecia areata is a very common condition, especially among males and females in their teenage and young adult years. Research suggests that spontaneous hair loss is related to an autoimmune condition in which the body's immune system attacks healthy skin cells and hair follicles. Damaged hairs become dry, brittle, and fall out easily. Skin irritation on the scalp makes it impossible to regrow new follicles after hair is lost. It is thought that stress and anxiety increase the likelihood of hair loss in people who are predisposed to alopecia.
In most cases, alopecia creates one or more round bald patches on the top of the head. Diffuse alopecia is a less common variety that causes a seemingly random pattern of hair loss. Instead of a clearly visible bald spot, diffuse alopecia thins the entire head of hair. A person with diffuse alopecia may lose considerable amounts of hair when brushing it, washing it, or simply running his or her hand through it. The condition may not be noticeable to others in the first few weeks, though continuing hair loss becomes obvious in about two months for most people.
A person who experiences sudden, significant hair loss should visit a doctor to receive a proper diagnosis. A physician typically checks blood samples for signs of underlying diseases that may be responsible for symptoms, such as diabetes or lupus. If no major health problems are discovered, the doctor can collect a small skin and hair sample for further laboratory testing.
Since diffuse alopecia is normally a temporary problem and does not cause health complications, treatment decisions are largely left up to the patient. An individual who is self-conscious about his or her appearance may decide to try an over-the-counter product such as minoxidil to regain lost hair. Monthly corticosteroid injections directly into the scalp may help promote new hair growth in many people. Another option for improving the appearance of major hair loss is hair transplant surgery, which involves grafting healthy hair follicles from one part of the head to a bald patch on another. Doctors can explain different treatment options in detail and help their patients make the best decisions.