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Male pattern baldness

Definition

Male pattern baldness is the most common type of hair loss in men.

Alternative Names

Alopecia in men; Baldness - male; Hair loss in men; Androgenetic alopecia

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Male pattern baldness is related to your genes and male sex hormones. It usually follows a pattern of receding hairline and hair thinning on the crown, and is caused by hormones and genetic predisposition.

Each strand of hair you have sits in a tiny hole (cavity) in the skin called a follicle. Baldness in general occurs when the hair follicle shrinks over time, resulting in shorter and finer hair. Eventually, the follicle does not grow new hair. The follicles remain alive, which suggests that it is still possible to grow new hair.

Symptoms

The typical pattern of male baldness begins at the hairline. The hairline gradually moves backward (recedes) and forms an "M" shape. Eventually the hair becomes finer, shorter, and thinner, and creates a U-shaped (or horseshoe) pattern of hair around the sides of the head.

Signs and tests

Classic male pattern baldness is usually diagnosed based on the appearance and pattern of the hair loss.

Hair loss may be due to other conditions. This may be true if hair loss occurs in patches, you shed a lot of hair, your hair breaks, or you have hair loss along with redness, scaling, or pain.

A skin biopsy, blood tests, or other procedures may be needed to diagnose other disorders that cause hair loss.

Hair analysis is not accurate for diagnosing hair loss due to nutritional or similar disorders. But it may reveal substances such as arsenic or lead.

Treatment

Treatment is not necessary if you are comfortable with your appearance. Hair weaving, hairpieces, or change of hairstyle may disguise the hair loss. This is usually the least expensive and safest approach for male baldness.

Medications that treat male pattern baldness include:

  • Minoxidil (Rogaine), a solution that is applied directly to the scalp to stimulate the hair follicles. It slows hair loss for many men, and some men grow new hair. Hair loss returns when you stop using this medicine.
  • Finasteride (Propecia, Proscar), a pill that interferes with the production of a highly active form of testosterone that is linked to baldness. It slows hair loss. It works slightly better than minoxidil. Hair loss returns when you stop using this medicine.

Hair transplants consist of removing tiny plugs of hair from areas where the hair is continuing to grow and placing them in areas that are balding. This can cause minor scarring and possibly, infection. The procedure usually requires multiple sessions and may be expensive.

Suturing hair pieces to the scalp is not recommended. It can result in scars, infections, and abscess of the scalp. The use of hair implants made of artificial fibers was banned by the FDA because of the high rate of infection.

Expectations (prognosis)

Male pattern baldness does not indicate a medical disorder, but it may affect self-esteem or cause anxiety. The hair loss is usually permanent.

Calling your health care provider

Call your doctor if:

  • Your hair loss occurs in an atypical pattern, including rapid hair loss, widespread shedding, hair loss in patches, or hair breakage.
  • Your hair loss occurs with itching, skin irritation, redness, scaling, pain, or other symptoms.
  • Your hair loss begins after starting a medication.
  • You want to treat your hair loss.

References

Habif TP. Clinical Dermatology: A Color Guide to Diagnosis and Therapy. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Elsevier Mosby; 2009:chap 24.

Sperling LC, Sinclair RD, El Shabrawi-Caelen L. Alopecias. In: Bolognia JL, Jorizzo JL, Schaffer JV, eds. Dermatology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 69.


Review Date: 5/15/2013
Reviewed By: Kevin Berman, MD, PhD, Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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