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Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD)

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Alopecia universalis


Other Names for this Disease

  • Alopecia areata universalis
  • AU
See Disclaimer regarding information on this site. Some links on this page may take you to organizations outside of the National Institutes of Health.

Your Question

I was born with alopecia universalis. I have recently had regrowth of thin sparse hairs. What can I expect from this condition? Will my hair ever grow back fully and can the condition be cured?

Our Answer

We have identified the following information that we hope you find helpful. If you still have questions, please contact us.

What is alopecia areata?

Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the hair follicles. This can lead to hair loss on the scalp and elsewhere on the body. In most cases, hair falls out in small, round patches on the scalp. Although uncommon, hair loss can be more extensive in some people. This condition can progress to cause total loss of hair on the head (alopecia totalis) or complete loss of hair on the head, face, and body (alopecia universalis). While there is neither a cure for nor drugs approved for treatment, some people find that medications approved for other purposes can help their hair grow back.[1]
Last updated: 5/9/2011

What is alopecia universalis?

Alopecia universalis (AU) is a condition characterized by complete loss of hair on the scalp and body.[2] It is a severe form of alopecia areata, which refers to hair loss of unknown cause characterized by round patches of complete baldness.[3][4]  Alopecia universalis is thought to be an autoimmune condition that occurs in some genetically-predisposed people. Hair loss occurs when a person's immune system mistakenly attacks the hair follicles.[1] There are currently no treatments known to be effective for alopecia universalis, but sometimes hair regrowth occurs on it's own, even after many years.[1][3]
Last updated: 8/26/2014

Can hair lost from alopecia universalis grow back?

There is every chance that hair lost as a result of alopecia universalis will regrow, but it may also fall out again. No one can predict when it might regrow or fall out. The course of the disease varies from person to person.[1] In all forms of alopecia areata, the hair follicles remain alive and are ready to resume normal hair production whenever they receive the appropriate signal. Hair regrowth may occur even without treatment and even after many years.[3] In some, the initial hair regrowth is white, with a gradual return of the original hair color. In most, the regrown hair is ultimately the same color and texture as the original hair.[1]
Last updated: 7/11/2014

What is the prognosis for individuals with alopecia universalis?

The course of alopecia universalis is highly unpredictable, and the uncertainty of what will happen is probably the most difficult and frustrating aspect of the disease. Affected people may continue to lose hair, or hair loss may stop. The hair that has already been lost may or may not grow back.[1]
Last updated: 11/1/2013

How might alopecia universalis be treated?

While there is neither a cure nor drugs approved for its treatment, some people find that medications approved for other purposes can help hair grow back, at least temporarily. Since alopecia universalis is one of the more extensive types of alopecia areata, the types of treatment are somewhat limited. The most common treatments include cortisone pills and total immunotherapy.[1] 

There are possible side effects of cortisone pills which should be discussed with a physician. Also, regrown hair is likely to fall out when the cortisone pills are stopped. About 40% of people treated with topical immunotherapy will regrow scalp hair after about six months of treatment. Those who do successfully regrow scalp hair need to continue the treatment to maintain the hair regrowth, at least until the condition turns itself off.[5]

While these treatments may promote hair growth, they do not prevent new loss or cure the underlying disease.[1] For those who do not respond to treatment, wigs are an important option.[5]

Other treatments which may be used to promote hair growth include:[1]

Last updated: 5/8/2012

References
Other Names for this Disease
  • Alopecia areata universalis
  • AU
See Disclaimer regarding information on this site. Some links on this page may take you to organizations outside of the National Institutes of Health.