Pierluigi Collina, a renowned football referee, has had alopecia universalis. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Pierluigi Collina, a renowned football referee, has alopecia universalis. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Also called alopecia areata universalis, alopecia universalis is a rare and severe type of hair loss characterized by complete head and body hair loss. Generally considered alopecia areata’s advanced version, alopecia universalis is an autoimmune disease wherein the hair follicles get mistakenly attacked by the immune system. It’s hereditary and currently there isn’t any cure for the problem. The condition could be permanent or temporary, and the lost hair may or may not grow back.

Vulnerable People

Generally, most people with alopecia universalis are in good health condition. However, individuals with vitiligo or thyroid disease are likely to develop the problem. People biologically programmed to have alopecia universalis have some hair at birth, which they eventually lose quickly. The majority are born without eyelashes or eyebrows, and they also never develop pubic or underarm hair.

Causes

Besides a possible genetic connection, there are no other known causes of alopecia universalis. However, environmental influences could further instigate or amplify the condition.

Complications

Alopecia universalis, like most other hair loss conditions, doesn’t lead to sickness or cause pain. But the social and psychological stress the affected may undergo could be enormous. Due to the lack of body and scalp hair, the skin and other unshielded parts of the body become vulnerable to bacteria, sun, and other harmful elements. Toenails and fingernails could also get affected, with nails developing pinprick-like indentations or getting severely distorted. 

Diagnosis

To get to the root of the issue, doctors may perform scalp biopsies. If alopecia universalis is the cause for hair loss, a biopsy test would reveal limited hair follicles, of which only a few would have hair shafts.

Treatment

As aforementioned, there’s no treatment for alopecia universalis. An individual suffering from the condition would invariably have to live with it for the rest of his/her life. Even hair transplantation won’t work since the affected doesn’t have active hair follicles to transport to the bald areas.