Does a Hair Transplant Work for Alopecia Areata?

02 April, 2024

Alopecia Areata is an autoimmune disorder characterized by unpredictable, patchy hair loss. In this condition, the body's immune system mistakenly attacks the hair follicles, leading to hair loss in small, round patches on the scalp or other body parts. The exact cause of alopecia areata is not fully understood, but genetic factors, environmental triggers, and immune system abnormalities are believed to play a role.

Alopecia areata can affect people of all ages and genders, although it often first appears during childhood or adolescence. The primary condition, known as Alopecia areata, encompasses the following categories:

  • Alopecia areata totalis:Characterized by complete hair loss on the scalp.

  • Alopecia areata universalis: Involves hair loss across the entire body.

  • Diffuse alopecia areata: Exhibits sudden thinning of hair rather than distinct patches of loss.

  • Ophiasis alopecia areata: Presents as hair loss in a band-shaped pattern around the sides and back of the head.

Alopecia Areata in Males

Alopecia areata is more commonly observed in males, affecting areas such as facial hair, chest, back, and scalp. Unlike male pattern baldness, characterized by gradual hair thinning, alopecia areata presents as distinct patches of hair loss.

Alopecia Areata in Females

In females, alopecia areata typically targets eyebrows, eyelashes, and the scalp. Similar to male pattern baldness, which results in diffuse hair thinning, alopecia areata in females manifests as small patches of hair loss.

What Causes Alopecia Areata?

Alopecia areata affects individuals of all ethnicities and genders, with onset possible at any age, though it commonly emerges during adolescence, young adulthood, or early middle age. It is prevalent among children, constituting the primary type of hair loss in this demographic.

While alopecia areata can manifest in anyone, certain groups are at a heightened risk, as identified by dermatologists and researchers.

  • Family history is a significant factor, with early-onset cases often occurring within families where a blood relative also has the condition. Inheritable genes associated with immune system function, though present, do not invariably lead to alopecia areata.

  • Autoimmune disorders like psoriasis, thyroid disease, or vitiligo are correlated with alopecia areata, potentially elevating one's susceptibility to this autoimmune condition. Similarly, individuals with asthma, hay fever, or atopic dermatitis exhibit an increased predisposition to developing alopecia areata, as per research findings.

  • Individuals treated with nivolumab, a cancer drug, face a rare but notable risk of developing alopecia areata or its more extensive variant, alopecia universalis. The onset of hair loss typically occurs a few months after commencing nivolumab treatment, termed nivolumab-induced alopecia areata. However, this hair loss often signifies the drug's efficacy in combating cancer. Dermatological intervention can address hair loss concerns while continuing nivolumab treatment.

  • Prolonged smoking habits, particularly exceeding ten years and involving five or more cigarettes daily, are associated with a heightened likelihood of alopecia areata development, as evidenced by multiple research studies. Notably, the risk is most pronounced in individuals with extensive smoking histories, highlighting a potential link between smoking habits and the autoimmune condition.

Hair Transplantation for Alopecia – How Does it Work?

Hair transplantation offers a lasting solution for various forms of hair loss, including Alopecia Areata only is specific circumstances. It involves a minimally invasive surgical procedure wherein a trichologist harvests healthy hair follicles from one area of the body and implants them into bald or thinning areas. The site where follicles are extracted is termed the donor site, while the recipient area is where the hair is transplanted.

Hair transplant procedures typically fall into two categories:

  1. Follicular Unit Transplantation (FUT):

  2. In FUT, a skilled surgeon harvests a strip of scalp tissue from the donor area, typically the back of the head, containing healthy hair follicles. Subsequently, the donor tissue is meticulously dissected under a microscope to obtain individual follicular units, which are then transplanted into the affected areas of hair loss. Despite the autoimmune nature of Alopecia areata, FUT can be effective in restoring hair growth, particularly in stable cases where the condition has not spread extensively. This technique may provide a permanent and natural-looking remedy for individuals grappling with Alopecia areata.

  3. Follicular Unit Extraction (FUE):

  4. In FUE, the trichologist or surgeon individually extracts follicles from the donor site using a punch tool. Unlike FUT, FUE does not require sutures and linear scarring. Benefits of FUE include reduced discomfort, minimal scarring, and the ability to harvest hair follicles from various body parts.

    Grafting, the process of implanting harvested hair follicles into the recipient site, is a crucial step in both FUT and FUE procedures. This technique is commonly employed in hair transplantation, especially for individuals experiencing hair loss and balding for an extended period, typically over five years.

Is Hair Transplant Suitable for Alopecia Areata?

Hair transplantation may be a viable treatment option for patients with Alopecia Areata under certain circumstances. Eligibility typically requires stable hair loss for at least 2 to 3 years, with a scalp biopsy recommended to assess underlying inflammation. If no inflammation is present, the patient can proceed with the transplant. Success rates vary but have been favorable in most cases with steady hair loss, with success rates ranging between 70 percent. However, patients should be informed of potential risks, including the possibility of hair loss under specific conditions, ensuring they comprehensively understand the procedure's outcomes.