Background The role of psychological factors in the pathogenesis of alopecia areata (AA) has long been the subject of debate. Numerous studies have provided controversial results.
Aim This case–control study was undertaken to determine the significance of stressful life events and other psychological factors in the etiopathogenesis of AA. The impact of the disease on the quality of life was also assessed.
Methods Fifty-two adult patients (18 females and 34 males) diagnosed with AA and 52 age- and sex-matched individuals selected from hospital staff without any hair loss (control group) were evaluated using the major life events scale, Beck depression and Beck anxiety inventories, and the Short Form-36 health survey (SF-36). In addition, comparison was performed between two patient groups created according to whether or not they linked emotional trauma with their AA attack.
Results There was no statistically significant difference between the patient and control groups with regard to the total scores of stressful major life events, depression, and anxiety. Of the eight subscales on SF-36, vitality and mental health scores were higher in the control group, whereas social functioning scores were higher in the patients. The total number of stressful life events was higher in patients who attributed their disease to a stressful life event than in those who did not.
Conclusions It appears unlikely that anxiety and depression play a major role in the etiopathogenesis of AA, but stressful life events may act as a trigger in the onset and/or exacerbation of the disease. Furthermore, AA seems to have a partly negative impact on the health-related quality of life.