Androgenetic Alopecia Has an Adverse Effect on Emotions, Quality of Life

Heidi Splete

August 10, 2021

Androgenetic alopecia significantly impairs patients' overall quality of life and emotional health, but does not have a notable impact on the incidence of depression, according a systematic review and meta-analysis of 41 studies.

"Hair loss affects self-image, causes trichodynia, and plays a role in emotions and social activity, which may be associated with psychiatric problems and impaired health-related quality of life," wrote Chun-Hsien Huang, MD, of Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, Linkou, Taiwan, and colleagues. However, systematic reviews of the associations between androgenetic alopecia (AGA) and health-related quality of life (HRQOL) are lacking, they said.

In a study published in JAMA Dermatology, the researchers reviewed data from a total of 7995 AGA patients in 41 studies. The studies included 11 tools for HRQOL assessment and 29 tools for psychological assessment. Of these, the Dermatology Life Quality Index (DLQI) and the Hair-Specific Skindex-29 were used to assess quality of life, and the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D) was used for psychological assessment in the meta-analysis.

Overall, 27 studies identified 18 factors associated with HRQOL; those with an inverse effect were higher self-rated hair loss severity, lower VAS score, and higher educational level. Of note, neither physician-rated hair loss severity nor treatment response were factors in HRQOL, the researchers said.

The pooled DLQI score across studies was 8.16, and subgroup analysis showed no differences in HRQOL between men and women or between patients from European vs. Asian countries. However, five studies showed significant differences in HRQOL between men and women when different assessment tools were used, which emphasized the need for more studies to examine the association of AGA with HRQOL by sex, the researchers said.

The meta-analysis of the Hair-Specific Skindex-29 scores showed pooled averages of 21.95 for symptom dimension, 18.52 in function dimension, and 29.22 in emotion dimension. Of these, the emotion dimension scores indicated moderate emotional impairment.

The average pooled score on the CES-D in the meta-analysis was 14.98, indicating no association between AGA and depression, the researchers said. However, "depression accounts for only a part of the emotion dimension," they said. "Therefore, emotion dimension could be impaired even if no depressive symptoms were noted."

The pooled DLQI scores for AGA (8.16) were higher than scores for other skin conditions including alopecia areata (6.3), contact dermatitis (7.35), and acne vulgaris (7.45), but lower than the pooled scores for vitiligo (9.11), urticaria (9.8), psoriasis (10.53), and atopic dermatitis (11.2), the researchers noted. "However, additional head-to-head studies are needed for direct comparisons of HRQOL in patients with various dermatoses," they said.

The study findings were limited by the cross-sectional design of many of the included studies, and the limited number of assessment tools included in the analysis, the researchers noted. Other limitations were the lack of specific domain scores and the inclusion of only three studies from China, they said.

However, the results are consistent with findings from previous studies, and suggest that patients with AGA may benefit from psychological and psychosocial support, the researchers said.

Quality of Life Issues Deserve Attention

Dr Jamie B. MacKelfresh

"Studies of the quality-of-life impact of various conditions are becoming more common in the medical literature," Jamie B. MacKelfresh, MD, associate professor of dermatology, Emory University, Atlanta, said in an interview.

"Androgenetic alopecia is the most common type of hair loss in men and women," she noted. "Hair loss can be labeled as a cosmetic concern, so it is important that providers understand the significant quality-of-life impact androgenetic alopecia has on the many people with this diagnosis," she emphasized.

MacKelfresh, who was asked to comment on the study, said she was surprised that the subgroup analysis of the DLQI showed no significant difference between men and women. "This surprised me because a number of past studies have highlighted the relatively greater quality-of-life impact of hair loss on women compared to men," she noted.

However, she added, "I was not surprised to see that androgenetic alopecia has a significant quality-of-life impact on many patients, and that physician objective assessments of the hair loss do not always correlate with the amount of quality-of-life impact," said  MacKelfresh. "In the patients I see, I find hair loss very often has a significant quality-of-life impact on patients, regardless of gender, and the amount of quality-of-life impact definitely does not always correlate with the objective amount of hair loss," she noted.

A takeaway message for clinicians is to be aware that androgenetic alopecia frequently has a significant impact on patients, "particularly in the emotional dimension," and can affect both men and women,  MacKelfresh said. "Objective assessments of hair loss severity by providers may not accurately predict the degree of quality-of-life impact a patient may experience; therefore providers should include quality-of-life questions as part of their standard evaluation of patients with androgenetic alopecia," she said. In addition to treating the hair loss, providers can help these patients by guiding them to psychological support resources, she emphasized.

More research is needed to assess the impact of androgenetic alopecia on "men, women, and the non-binary gender population," as well as the relationship between self-esteem and hair loss, she said. "Finally, it would be helpful to understand what interventions can best help improve androgenetic alopecia patients' quality of life," she noted.

The study received no outside funding. The researchers had no financial conflicts to disclose.  MacKelfresh had no financial conflicts to disclose.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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