Alopecia areata (AA) is more common than you might think. Indeed, it’s thought to effect 2% of the population at some point in their lifetime.
For those who have been diagnosed with AA, the rates of remission are often a more pressing concern than incidence rates. However, the research that exists around remission rates is not only hard to find but it can also be confusing.
Research on remission rates in AA patients can be an empowering piece of knowledge, which is why we’ve invested in funding this study that contains valuable information for our community. In this article, we’re presenting all the most important statistics found in the AAAF-funded report Treatment of alopecia areata: An Australian expert consensus statement to help empower you with that knowledge.
Degrees of Alopecia Areata
There are many types of Alopecia Areata. They are generally grouped by what area of the body they affect, or the pattern of the hair loss. The three most common forms are:
- Alopecia Areata – patchy loss of hair on the scalp
- Alopecia Totalis – complete or mostly complete loss of hair on the scalp
- Alopecia Universalis – complete loss of all hair including brows, lashes and body hair
In some individuals, AA may present as one to five patches of hair loss that resolve themselves within 6
to 12 months. In others, AA becomes a chronic disorder characterized by multiple hair loss patches with
relapse and remission occurring over the course of many years. It may also present as total, or universal,
hair loss as described above.
Remission Statistics for Alopecia Areata
In the research report Treatment of alopecia areata: An Australian expert consensus statement, William C. Cranwell et al., discuss the remission rates presented in a landmark 1963 paper by Tadayo Ikeda.
Between 1947 and 1963, Ikeda studied 1,989 alopecia patients in Kyoto, Japan. Ikeda found that among those with hair loss:
- 40% will experience one patch of hair loss and will spontaneously enter remission within six months of diagnosis.
- 27% will experience more than one patch but still achieve remission within 12 months.
- 33% will develop chronic AA.
Chronic AA is AA that lasts longer than one year. The prevalence is approximately 1 in 1000 people and 2% of those have a risk of developing AA for their lifetime.
Chronic AA patients tend to develop multiple patches of hair loss which persists through many years and they may never enter complete remission. In fact, Ikeda found that without systemic treatment, 55% of patients with chronic AA will have persistent multifocal relapsing and remitting AA. A further 30% of patients will develop alopecia totalis (AT) and 15% will develop alopecia universalis (AU).
Remission Statistics for Alopecia Areata in Children
Remission statistics for children with AA differ from the above. For example, one study cited in Cranwell et al., involved 87 children between the ages of 7 and 12.
Of these children, 57% completely recovered from their hair loss within 3 years of their initial diagnosis. 21.5% of those children recovered and then relapsed, eventually developing chronic AA. Another 21.5% of those children developed chronic AA with no initial recovery.
Does Treatment Help Cure Alopecia Areata or Improve Remission Rates?
The medical world differentiates between cures and treatments. While a cure completely removes a disease from an individual, a treatment is intended to improve the condition and the quality of life of the individual.
With that said, there is no cure for AA but there are treatments. The goal of said treatment is to hinder the progression of the disease and to reverse any hair loss that has already occurred.
However, there is no verifiable evidence that treatment has any impact on the natural course of AA. That is, medical professionals are unsure to what degree treatment of an acute AA episode prevents the disease from developing into a chronic condition. Patients can recover from acute AA or experience complete remission from chronic AA and still experience a relapse in their future.
That does not mean that treatment is not important or useful. For example, one analysis of 68 chronic AA patients who received systemic treatment found that the rate of developing AT or AU was reduced to 17.6%. At approximately 45%, that rate was higher in the Ikeda paper. While the figures demonstrate a need for further investigation, they also suggest that treatment of chronic AA may help reduce the risk for developing AT and/or AU.
Looking for More Stats and Info on AA?
Receiving an AA diagnosis can be confusing and difficult. But educating yourself around the disease and potential treatments is one way to feel empowered. That’s especially true when it comes to remission rates, which can offer hope when it seems like there is none.
The AAAF believes that our most important task is to spread awareness and education about alopecia, and you are an essential part of that mission. Please consider donating to the AAAF so that we can continue to fund important research such as the report we dissected today.