Model Anna Fitzpatrick discusses her alopecia universalis on Close Up, Television New Zealand's nightly current affairs show.

What is Alopecia Areata?

Alopecia is the technical term for hair loss and baldness.

It's perhaps most often used to refer to patchy hair loss (alopecia areata) or complete hair loss (Gail Porter, for example) which is either alopecia totalis (bald scalp) or alopecia universalis (entirely bald from top to toe). These are thought to be auto-immune problems.

What causes alopecia?

Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease. Normally the immune system protects the body against infection and disease. In an autoimmune disease, the body's immune system mistakenly attacks some part of your own body. In alopecia areata, the immune system attacks the hair follicles.

The cause is not known. Scientists think that a person's genes may play a role. For people whose genes put them at risk for the disease, some type of trigger starts the attack on the hair follicles. The triggers may be a virus or something in the person's environment.

Who gets alopecia?

Anyone can have alopecia areata. It is not a hereditary disease and can show up as early as in childhood. Doctors still do not know why the immune system attacks the hair follicles.

Will hair ever grow back?

There is every chance that your hair will grow back, but it may fall out again. No one can tell you when it might fall out or grow back. You may lose more hair, or your hair loss may stop. The hair you have lost may or may not grow back. Even a person who has lost all of his hair may grow all of his hair back. The disease varies from person to person and is unpredictable.

Does Alopecia Areata affect you physically?

Alopecia areata does not make you feel pain and does not make you feel sick. You can't give it to others. People who have the disease are, for the most part, healthy in other ways. Alopecia areata will not shorten your life, and it should not affect activities such as going to school, working, marrying, raising a family, playing sports, and exercising.

What research is being done on Alopecia Areata?

Researchers are seeking a better understanding of the disease. Scientists are studying:

- Genes
- Hair follicle development
- The immune system
- Drugs and treatments for other autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus
- Better ways to get drugs directly to the hair follicles
- Stem cells in the skin