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What is alopecia?

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Quick Answer

Alopecia, or alopecia areata, is an autoimmune disorder characterized by loss of hair from the scalp, usually in clumps. After the disease takes hold, experts at WebMD say symptoms appear primarily in the form of patchy hair loss. Hair falls out in clumps or clusters, leaving shiny bald spots on the scalps.

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What is alopecia?
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Full Answer

Although alopecia produces unsightly bald patches, hair loss usually comes and goes. Hair lost during one flare-up might ultimately regrow. Researchers at WebMD say this growth-loss pattern generally takes place during several months. Afflicted individuals might lose hair from one spot on their heads for a month or more, but those hairs may eventually grow back in one month or several months. Sometimes, hair grows back in strands identical to those lost, but other times in comes back thinner or in different colors.

In extreme cases, this disease may produce chronic loss of scalp hair, along with loss of body hair. Some risk factors increases peoples' likelihood of developing chronic alopecia. Having a family history of alopecia, developing the condition before puberty, having an additional autoimmune disease and multiple previous episodes of substantial hair loss increase the risk of permanent hair loss. In addition to targeting the hair, alopecia sometimes affects the fingernails and toenails. Nails may develop pits or have uneven surfaces and altered appearances.

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