Alopecia universalis may be very rare, affecting just 1 per cent of patients suffering from alopecia areata, but the emotional devastation it causes is acute. Alopecia means hair loss and there are various forms of alopecia, the most common being androgenetic alopecia or, more commonly, male and female baldness.
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition whereby hair falls out, usually in small round patches on the scalp, although it can also affect body and facial hair as well. It can develop into other types of alopecia; alopecia totalis which is when the sufferer loses all hair on the scalp and alopecia universalis, where they lose all the hair on their body.
Matt Lucas, and everyone else, unclear about root cause
Little Britain star Matt Lucas suffers from alopecia universalis and has done since he was six. As with many cases of alopecia areata, totalis or universalis, it is impossible to pinpoint exactly the cause of Matt Lucas’ condition. Some doctors think it might be due to an incident where he was knocked down by a car two years’ earlier – a delayed shock to the system which causes his immune system to attack the hair follicles.
Other triggers of alopecia areata are thought to be a reaction to a bacteria or virus that has caused the immune system to produce antibodies to fight the foreign invader. These antibodies sometimes mistakenly attack parts of the body – in this case the hair follicles – causing inflammation that damages the hairs. Certain medications can also cause a similar affect on the immune system. There is also a genetic factor – about one in five people with alopecia areata will have a close relative that also has or had the condition.
Furthermore, alopecia areata often occurs in people who have family members that have other autoimmune conditions, such as diabetes, thyroid disease, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. It is this close association between alopecia areata and other autoimmune diseases that could have led to a possible breakthrough of this hair loss condition.
Could an arthritis drug be the cure for alopecia universalis?
Last year, scientists at Yale University announced that they had used rheumatoid arthritis medication to successfully regrow head and body hair of a young man who’d been almost totally hairless for almost seven years.[see the full story here]
The drug tofacitinib citrate was administered and over a period of eight months, the man grew back a full head of hair, eyebrows, eyelashes, armpit hair and other hair on the face and body.
“This is a huge step forward in the treatment of patients with this condition,” study senior author Dr. Brett King, an assistant professor of dermatology at Yale University School of Medicine, said at the time. “While it’s one case, we anticipated the successful treatment of this man based on our current understanding of the disease and the drug. We believe the same results will be duplicated in other patients, and we plan to try.”