Causes of Alopecia Areata

The exact causes of alopecia are unknown, but there are theories that point to several factors. For a long time, it was thought that stress was the primary cause, however, there is very little scientific evidence to support that. Limited studies have shown that extreme stress may trigger alopecia in some people.

The Gene Connection

A likely cause of alopecia is the presence of specific genes that make a person more susceptible to developing the disease. Two studies showed that the human leukocyte antigen DQ3 was found in more than 80% of patients with alopecia areata. The same research indicated that human leukocyte antigens DQ7 and DR4 were present significantly more in patients with alopecia totalis and alopecia universalis, respectively. These finding suggest that each of these genes may be markers for general susceptibility to developing the three primary types of alopecia.

The Presence of Other Conditions

There is a strong body of evidence that ties several autoimmune disorders and atopic conditions to alopecia. Fungal infections, environmental toxins, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies may also play a role. While research implies a connection to these conditions, the underlying mechanisms and connections are still not fully understood.

Autoimmune Diseases Tied to Alopecia

  • Vitiligo

  • Thyroid disease

  • Lupus

  • Type 1 diabetes

  • Rheumatoid arthritis

  • Pernicious anemia

  • Addison’s disease

  • Inflammatory bowel disease

Atopic Conditions Tied to Alopecia

  • Allergic Rhinitis

  • Asthma

  • Eczema

  • Contact dermatitis

Cicatricial alopecia is a rare type of alopecia believed to be related to inflammation directed at the hair follicle. This inflammation typically targets the upper part of the follicle where the stem cells and sebaceous glands (oil glands) are located. Research suggests that abnormal buildup of lipids triggers inflammation that ultimately destroys the hair follicles. The underlying mechanisms that cause this buildup are unknown.

Stats and Facts About the Causes of Alopecia

  • A 1998 study on 25 women showed that those who experienced high stress were 11 times more likely to experience hair loss.

  • A 53-year-old male being treated for heart failure experienced new onset of alopecia. It was tied to lisinopril – a drug known as an ACE inhibitor, one of the mainstay medications in the management of heart failure. After his doctor prescribed a different drug, his alopecia resolved in 4 weeks.

  • A small study indicated that patients with alopecia areata had significantly lower serum and tissue levels of vitamin D receptors.

Additional Resources

What Is Alopecia?

Types of Alopecia

Causes of Alopecia 

Alopecia Treatments

Newly Diagnosed with Alopecia

Alopecia FAQ's

Understanding Traction Alopecia

Central Centrifugal Cicatricial Alopecia (CCCA)

7 Common Myths About Alopecia

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