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Understanding the causes and impact of alopecia areata


Understanding the causes and impact of alopecia areata

How Do Viruses Make Us Sick?

Approximately 100,000 people are affected by Alopecia in the UK.1

There are many different types of alopecia, each with its own differing effects.2 In this article, we focus on Alopecia Areata (AA) and the causes of the condition and the impact it has on those affected in the UK.

What causes Alopecia Areata?

AA is thought to be an autoimmune disease and is thought to be caused by the immune system cells mistakenly gathering around the hair follicles, mistaking healthy tissues for dangerous ones, and stopping the production of hair growth.3

Alopecia Areata can affect men and women at any age.3 AA can be broken down into three different types:3

  1. Patchy AA – the most common form, where hair loss occurs in one, or more, coin sized patches on the scalp or body3

  2. Alopecia Totalis – patients lose all or nearly all of the hair on their scalp3

  3. Alopecia Universalis – a rare form of the condition which affects nearly all of the hair on the scalp, face and body3

AA may be a noticeable condition and may have a direct impact on a persons’ psychology, physicality, and social life as a result.3

Societal impact

In a study of GP records from 2009 to 2018, 6,675 people in the study population developed alopecia areata for the first time.As a result, it's been calculated that approximately 1 in every 4,000 people develop alopecia areata each year in the UK.A persons’ hair often plays a critical role in self-identity and is intrinsically linked with self-esteem, self-image and social perceptions.4

In a study using a UK database of patients, 5,435 people with a new diagnosis of alopecia areata were identified.4 From the patients impacted by AA, it was found they were 56% more likely to have time off work due to the condition and 82% more likely to be unemployed, compared to people without AA.4

“Alopecia Areata can have a psychological impact on adults and adolescents living with the condition. Pfizer will continue to work hard to support, research and better understand this condition to help patients in need."

Lynn ClaySpecialty Care Lead, Pfizer UK

Personal wellbeing

In the same study as above, using a UK database of patients, where 5,435 people with a new diagnosis of alopecia areata were identified, it was found those with the condition are at a 30-38% higher risk of developing depression and a 33% higher risk of developing anxiety, compared to people without alopecia areata.

Supporting patients with the psychological impact of AA, is therefore a vital part of care. However, thanks to the digital age, there are support communities on social media that can help those suffering with the emotional and physical impacts of the condition, including but not limited to, Alopecia UK. Major AA organisations, like Alopecia UK, provide helpful information on living with alopecia and can provide support via email and telephone.5

Alopecia Areata research

Pfizer is committed to investing in research to discover potential breakthroughs and help change lives. There is still much to learn about Alopecia Areata. Pfizer is therefore committed to researching and improving the understanding of Alopecia Areata, in order to help improve patient care in the future.

If you or a loved one is impacted by AA, support can be found on the Alopecia UK website.


  1. Epic Epidemiology Study for Alopecia Areata. Alopecia UK. Published September 21, 2021. Last accessed March 2024.

  2. Types of Alopecia. Alopecia UK. Last accessed March 2024.

  3. The Psychological Impact of Alopecia Areata. The British Psychological Society. Published June 2007. Last accessed March 2024.

  4. Macbeth, A., Holmes, S., Harries, M., et al. 2022. 'The associated burden of mental health conditions in alopecia areata: a population‐based study in UK primary care'. British Journal of Dermatology. 187: 73-81. doi: Last accessed March 2024. 

  5. Alopecia UK Home Page and Contact Us. Alopecia UK. Last accessed March 2024.

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