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It is estimated that 6.5 million men in the UK suffer from male pattern baldness, which is the most common form of hair loss. It affects over half of men over the age of 50, and by 60, the majority of men will begin to suffer from some form of hair loss. However, the process can start much younger, sometimes in the twenties or thirties.

Some men accept hair loss as the natural consequence of ageing, but others find the process distressing. For many people, feeling good about their appearance is linked to their self-esteem, and losing their hair can feel like a damaging loss of identity.

What causes hair loss?

The general medical term for hair loss is alopecia. However, it is most commonly used to refer to alopecia areata, which is caused by an autoimmune disorder. The lymphocytes of the immune system attack the hair follicles which hold the hair in place. When the follicles die the hair will fall out, usually in circular patches, although the hair can completely go.

Alopecia areata can affect anyone at any point in their life, male or female. Scientists still are not entirely certain what triggers the condition, although it is related to stress, and other autoimmune diseases. Sometimes, the condition can reverse itself on its own. Depending on the cause, it may be treatable with steroids or immunotherapy.

What causes male pattern baldness?

Both male and female pattern baldness are known by the medical term androgenetic alopecia. Male pattern baldness is a hereditary condition, which is passed on through genetic inheritance. It typically starts with a receding from the temples, followed by a thinning of the crown, and in some cases it may lead to complete baldness.

In males, baldness is linked to the hormone testosterone, although contrary to common belief, high testosterone levels are not a direct cause of baldness in men. The process begins when testosterone is converted into dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Some men are more sensitive to the effects of DHT than others, which is determined by genetics.

For men who are susceptible to baldness, the DHT will prevent the hair follicles from absorbing essential nutrients, and eventually, they shrink and die. The remaining hair may become thin and patchy or sparse. In females, the same shrinking of hair follicles occurs, but it is thought to be caused by changing hormone levels.

How can hair loss be treated?

The treatment for hair loss depends on the cause. In the majority or cases, this will be a genetic predisposition to balding. However, if the hair loss doesn’t follow the pattern of receding at the crown or temples, but is falling out in clumps or circular patches, then medical advice should be sought.

Classic male pattern baldness can be treated with finasteride, which reduces the amount of DHT in the body. It’s best to start taking it as soon as the first signs of baldness appear, as it can be too late once the hair follicles have died completely.

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