Clinical presentations of alopecia areata

Authors

  • Maria K. Hordinsky

    Corresponding author
    1. Division of Clinical Research, Department of Dermatology, University of Minnesota Medical School, Minneapolis, Minnesota
    Search for more papers by this author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Maria K. Hordinsky, MD, Department of Dermatology, MMC 98, 420 Delaware St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455, or e-mail: hordi001@tc.umn.edu.

Abstract

Alopecia areata (AA) may can occur on any hair-bearing region. Patients can develop patchy nonscarring hair loss or extensive loss of all body hair. Hair loss may fluctuate. Some patients experience recurrent hair loss followed by hair regrowth, whereas others may only develop a single patch of hair loss, never to see the disease again. Still others experience extensive loss of body hair. The heterogeneity of clinical presentations has led investigators conducting clinical therapeutic trials to typically group patients into three major groups, those with extensive scalp hair loss [alopecia totalis (AT)], extensive body hair loss [alopecia universalis (AU)], or patchy disease (AA). Treatment outcomes have been correlated with disease duration and extent. Recently, guidelines were established for selecting and assessing subjects for both clinical and laboratory studies of AA, thereby facilitating collaboration, comparison of data, and the sharing of patient-derived tissue. For reporting purposes the terms AT and AU, though still used are defined very narrowly. AT is 100% terminal scalp hair loss without any body hair loss and AU is 100% terminal scalp hair and body loss. AT/AU is the term now recommended to define the presence of AT with variable amounts of body hair loss. In this report the term AA will be used broadly to encompass the many presentations of this disease. Development of AA may occur with changes in other ectodermal-derived structures such as fingernails and toenails. Some investigators have also suggested that other ectodermal-derived appendages as sebaceous glands and sweat glands may be affected in patients experiencing AA. Whether or not function of these glands is truly impaired remains to be confirmed. Many patients who develop patchy or extensive AA complain of changes in cutaneous sensation, that is, burning, itching, tingling, with the development of their disease. Similar symptoms may occur with hair regrowth. The potential involvement of the nervous system in AA has led to morphologic investigations of the peripheral nervous system as well as analysis of circulating neuropeptide levels. In this article the clinical presentations of AA are reviewed. The guidelines for conducting treatment studies of AA are presented and observations on changes in cutaneous innervation are introduced. Throughout the text, unless otherwise noted, AA will be used in a general way to denote the spectrum of this disease.

Ancillary