Alopecia is baldness or loss of hair. The most common form is male-pattern baldness (also known as androgenic alopecia), but both men and women can suffer from hair loss. Alopecia areata is another type of hair loss, involving patches of baldness that may come and go. It affects about 1 in 100 people, mostly teenagers and young adults. In some cases, hair loss is a side effect of having cancer treatment drugs, and in many cases the hair grows back. Hair loss can lead to problems with self-confidence and self-esteem.
If hair loss is caused by an infection or a condition such as anaemia, treating the infection or condition may prevent further hair loss. In some cases, including after cancer treatment, your hair may start to grow again.
There are two medicines available that are known to be effective in treating male-pattern baldness: finasteride and minoxidil. Finasteride works by preventing the hormone testosterone being converted into the hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT). DHT causes the hair follicles to shrink, so blocking its production allows the hair follicles to regain their normal size. Minoxidil is available as a lotion that you rub on your scalp every day. It is available from pharmacies without prescription. Like finasteride, minoxidil normally needs at least 4 months of use before any effect is seen, and the balding process will normally resume if treatment is stopped. Any new hair that does re-grow falls out two months after treatment is stopped. Side effects are uncommon. Currently, the only medicine available to treat female-pattern baldness is minoxidil. Minoxidil lotion may help hair to grow in 20-25 percent of women who use it, and in the majority it may slow or stop the loss of hair. Other treatments for hair loss include wigs, hair transplants (taking hair from the sides and back of the head) and plastic surgery (such as scalp reduction where the bald area is removed and the bit with hair on is stretched forward). There is no really effective treatment for alopecia areata. Some treatments can encourage hair to grow, such as steroid injections or creams, or minoxidil lotion. See your GP for more information. In 60-80 percent of cases the hair grows back after about a year without any treatment.
According to Chinese Medicine theory, baldness can be associated with many syndromes. A Chinese medical doctor will first try to discover the underlying syndrome which is leading to balding. It may be:
Qi (the body's essential energy) and Blood Deficiency: Spleen and Lung Qi deficiency causes a failure in the normal regular nourishment of hair.
Liver and Kidney Deficiency: congenital deficiency or sexual over-strain can give rise to Liver and Kidney Yin Deficiency (i.e. deficiency of cooling bodily fluids). This Yin deficiency can cause hair loss.
Blood Heat and Excess Wind: excessive heat in the blood or external wind invading the body, which can lead to balding.
Damp-Heat accumulation: having sweet, oily food and drink causes damp-heat to accumulate in the body which in turn will cause a dysfunction in the Lung, Spleen and Kidney. Damp-Heat can damage the root of hair and obstruct meridians (the channels through which the body's essential energy circulates), which causes hair loss.
According to Chinese Medicine theory, depending on the underlying syndrome, herbal ointments and shampoos, acupuncture, Guasha and plum blossom needles can be prescribed to treat hair loss.
For personalised advice on diet and lifestyle, please ask the doctor during your consultation.
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As a young woman of 21 years old, Ms. J.G was devastated to be diagnosed as suffering from alopecia. After being told that any treatment she might be able to receive on the NHS would take at least 24 weeks before an appointment could come through, she decided to visit the AcuMedic centre. After a short time receiving acupuncture and herbal therapy, her hair is now growing back, and she has also noticed a "huge general improvement" in her well-being. She also explained that her period pains have become less severe.