What you need to know about the different types of alopecia areata
There are a number of different types of alopecia areata — an autoimmune skin disease, which causes hair loss on the scalp, face and sometimes on other areas of the body. With each of these types — which range from mild to much more severe — you or someone you care about may experience slightly different symptoms and the course of treatment for each may be different.
Will the small, hairless patches on my scalp/beard/body spread to the rest of my body?
Not necessarily — the most common type results in patches of hair loss that often resolve spontaneously or with treatment. The forms of alopecia areata that cause complete hair loss on the scalp or entire body are relatively rare.
Understand the different types of alopecia areata, including alopecia totalis and alopecia universalis
Get the facts on other alopecia areata symptoms, including signs like “pitting” or “stippling” on your nails
Know that you are not alone — alopecia areata affects 6.8 million people in the U.S. based on a lifetime risk of 2.1%
Did you know?
Some people who have alopecia areata can also have other autoimmune diseases. However, the fact that you have alopecia areata doesn’t mean you will automatically develop another autoimmune disease. Some people who have alopecia areata can also experience nail changes like pitting of their nails or “stippling” (rows of tiny dents) on their fingernails. Both finger and toe nails may be affected.
How many kinds of alopecia areata are there?
Alopecia areata most commonly begins as isolated patchy hair loss, usually in one or more coin-sized (usually round or oval) patches on the scalp or other places on the body that grow hair — such as the beard, eyebrows, eyelashes or extremities (arms, legs, hands and feet).
Main forms of alopecia areata
Alopecia areata (patchy)
Alopecia areata (patchy) is the form with one or more coin-sized (usually round or oval) patches on the scalp or other places on the body that grow hair. This type may convert into either alopecia totalis (hair loss across the entire scalp) or alopecia universalis (hair loss across the entire body), but most commonly it remains patchy.
Persistent patchy alopecia areata
Persistent patchy alopecia areata is characterized by patchy scalp hair loss that continues over a long period of time without ever developing into extensive alopecia areata such as totalis or universalis.
Alopecia totalis results in hair loss across the entire scalp.
Alopecia universalis is more advanced than alopecia totalis. This type results in hair loss across the entire scalp and face (including eyebrows and eyelashes), plus the rest of the body (including pubic hair).
Other forms of alopecia areata
Diffuse alopecia areata
Diffuse alopecia areata results in sudden and unexpected thinning of the hair all over the scalp. It can be hard to diagnose because it looks a lot like other forms of hair loss such as telogen effluvium or male or female pattern hair loss.
Ophiasis alopecia areata has a unique pattern of hair loss, which includes the sides and lower back of the scalp (called the occipital region) in the shape of a band. Ophiasis alopecia areata can be more difficult to treat, because it does not respond as quickly to medication.
With all types of alopecia areata, hair loss and regrowth can be very unpredictable and cyclical (happen over and over), for many years. Though for some people, hair may regrow and not fall out again. Currently there is no cure for alopecia areata. However, your hair follicles remain alive no matter what type you have. This means that hair regrowth can happen after many years of severe or widespread hair loss.
There are also several treatment options available for these different kinds of alopecia areata. The only way to be sure what type of alopecia areata you may have, and the best course for treatment, is to make an appointment with your doctor.
What’s in a name?
The term alopecia (pronounced: al-oh-PEE-shah) means “baldness” in latin, and areata (pronounced: ar-ee-AH-tah) means “occurring in patches.” The autoimmune disease known as alopecia areata means that a person has hair loss that is usually in coin-shaped patches on the face, scalp or other areas of the body that normally grow hair. The autoimmune disease known as alopecia areata is also an umbrella term that encompasses the other forms like alopecia totalis, alopecia universalis, diffuse and ophiasis alopecia areata.