There are a number of medical conditions that
are related to the scalp. Most of these are conditions that result in hair loss
or some type of skin rash. Many scalp conditions are hereditary, but some may
be caused by malnutrition or an infection. The treatment and outlook depends on
the condition causing the scalp problems.
Types of Scalp Conditions
One of the most common types of scalp
conditions is one that causes hair loss or damage. This can range from complete
loss of hair to easy breakages or small patches of hair loss:
- Male pattern baldness is a type of hair loss that is common in men and is caused by genetics
and the male sex hormones.
- Alopecia areata is a chronic autoimmune disorder that causes a patchy type of balding
- Nutritional deficiencies can cause hair loss. A protein deficiency, which is called kwashiorkor,
or an iron deficiency, anemia, could be the cause.
- Hyperthyroidism, which means an overproduction of thyroid hormone can cause hair loss.
- Hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid, can also cause hair loss.
- Hypopituitarism, or an underactive pituitary gland, can cause hair loss.
- Lichen planus is a skin condition that can cause hair loss, as well as discoloration
of the scalp.
- Celiac disease is an allergy to gluten, and can cause hair loss.
- Systemic lupus erythematosus is an autoimmune disorder that can cause hair loss.
- Trichorrhexis nodosa occurs when hair shafts have weaknesses and break easily. It is normally
caused by genetics, but can also be a result of certain disorders.
There are other conditions that affect the
scalp because they are skin conditions or they cause skin rashes:
- Seborrheic eczema, or dermatitis, is a common inflammatory skin condition that causes
flaky, scaly patches on the skin, especially the scalp. When those flakes fall
off, it is called dandruff.
- Cradle cap is seborrheic eczema in infants.
- Psoriasis is an inflammatory skin condition that is not uncommon. In many cases,
the scalp is affected and develops red, scaly, dry patches.
- Ringworm, or tinea capitis, is a fungal skin infection that produces ring-like
patches. It is common in children.
- Scleroderma is a rare disease of the skin and connective tissue. It causes skin to
develop patches that are tight and hard.
- Ito syndrome, or incontinentia pigmenti achromians, is a birth defect that is rare
and that causes light patches of skin to develop on the body.
- Graft-vs-host disease (GVHD) is a potential complication after having a bone marrow or stem
cell transplant. A skin rash may form when the host rejects the transplanted
- Leishmaniasis is a tropical parasite that is spread by sand flies. It can cause skin
In addition to skin and hair loss conditions,
there are some other health problems that affect the scalp:
- Lice are small insects that infest the hair and scalp.
- Head trauma can refer to any accidents that cause skull fractures or cuts to the
- Temporal arteritis is when arteries that supply the head with blood are inflamed or
damaged. It results in a sensitive scalp.
Causes of Scalp Conditions
There are many different causes of scalp
conditions. For many, the exact causes are unknown, or are multiple and seem to
involve genetics. These include autoimmune disorders, male pattern baldness,
skin conditions, hormonal disorders, psoriasis, and scleroderma. Others, like
ringworm, lice, and leishmaniasis are known to be caused by infections.
Symptoms of Scalp Conditions
The symptoms of scalp conditions depend on
the exact condition, but include rashes, hair loss or hair thinning, weak hair
and breakages, itchiness, scaly patches, pain and tenderness, as well as other
symptoms that are characteristic of particular conditions and not necessarily
related to the scalp.
Diagnosis of Scalp Conditions
If you suspect you have a condition that is
affecting your scalp, your doctor will first want to examine your head, hair,
and scalp. Some conditions, such as male pattern baldness, psoriasis, lice,
ringworm, or alopecia may be easy to diagnose after a visual examination.
For other conditions, your doctor or a
specialist may need to run other tests. You may need to have a sample of blood
drawn, for instance, to test for hormone levels and to determine if a thyroid
or pituitary problem is to blame, or to detect a nutritional deficiency.
Treatments for Scalp Conditions
Treatment for scalp conditions varies
depending on the diagnosis. There are prescription medications available to
help treat hair loss. Surgical implants of hair transplants are also possible.
In some cases, the underlying cause of hair loss can be treated. Supplements or
dietary changes can correct nutritional deficiencies. Medications can treat (but
not cure) autoimmune disorders and hormone disorders. Celiac disease can be
treated by avoiding gluten in the diet.
Infections, like ringworm and lice, can be
cured by using medicated ointments and washes that kill the fungus or insect.
You can treat seborrheic eczema and cradle cap with medicated shampoos. Neither
Ito syndrome nor scleroderma can be cured, but the symptoms can be reduced with
Prognosis for Scalp Conditions
The prognosis for many scalp conditions is
good. Although there are no cures for some of them, treatment can successfully
control symptoms. Medications that slow or regrow hair are somewhat successful,
but wigs are always an option when they don’t work. The infections that cause
scalp conditions can be treated and eliminated.