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Symmetric hair loss across frontal and temporal scalp

A 66-year-old white woman presented to her family physician (FP) with concerns about hair loss, which began 2 years earlier. Recently, she had noticed some “bumps” on her cheeks, as well. On physical examination, the FP noted hair loss in a symmetric 2-cm band-like distribution across her frontal and temporal scalp. In both areas, there was moderate perifollicular erythema, scale, and what appeared to be scarring. The patient had lost most of her eyebrow hairs, and had prominent temporal veins and flesh-colored papules on her cheeks. The patient’s last menses was 15 years earlier, and she was not taking hormone replacement.

What is your diagnosis?


Symmetric hair loss across frontal and temporal scalp

The FP referred the patient to a dermatology clinic that specialized in hair loss. Based on the clinical findings, physicians at the clinic suspected that this was a case of frontal fibrosing alopecia (FFA), a primary lymphocytic cicatricial (scarring) alopecia. A dermatopathologist confirmed the diagnosis via histologic review.

FFA is characterized by symmetric band-like hair loss with evidence of scarring in the frontal and temporal regions of the scalp. (The extent of hair loss can be assessed by retracting the patient’s hair and having the patient raise his or her eyebrows and wrinkle the forehead in a surprised look.) FFA is accompanied by eyebrow loss in 73% to 95% of patients. Mild to severe perifollicular (and possibly more generalized) erythema and scale are usually present. In addition, erythematous or skin-colored papules may appear on the face, and marked exaggeration of the temporal veins is a common finding.

Most patients with FFA (83%) are postmenopausal women and nearly all (98.6%) have Fitzpatrick skin type 1 or 2 (white skin that burns easily and doesn’t readily tan). Other pertinent findings include the absence of oral lesions, nail changes, or other skin diseases.

A punch biopsy taken from the leading edge of the hair loss confirms the diagnosis of FFA and, ideally, should be reviewed by a dermatopathologist. Histologic examination will reveal a lichenoid lymphocytic infiltrate (predominantly around the hair follicle where the follicular stem cells reside), resulting in fibrosis and scarring. In addition to confirming the diagnosis with histologic examination, the following conditions must be ruled out in the differential: alopecia areata, female pattern hair loss, discoid lupus erythematosus, central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia, and traction alopecia.

Early detection is key. In general, physicians should initiate treatment as soon as possible to prevent disease progression and reduce permanent scarring and hair loss. Intralesional steroids such as triamcinolone acetonide (5-10 mg/cc), as well as high-potency topical steroids, are generally helpful to stabilize the disease. There is also some evidence of benefit from oral dutasteride or finasteride at variable doses. Immunosuppressants such as hydroxychloroquine also may be used as second-line treatments, although the benefit-to-risk ratio needs to be taken into consideration.

This patient was started on a regimen of topical high-potency steroids (clobetasol foam, 0.05%), with targeted, intralesional injection of steroids (10 mg/cc of triamcinolone acetonide) to areas with the most inflammation. She also was advised to use ketoconazole 2% shampoo while showering. These interventions decreased the patient’s symptoms dramatically. Her scalp erythema and scale improved, but the hair did not regrow. One year later, her hairline was clinically stable with no evidence of disease progression. She continued to see a dermatologist annually.

This case was adapted from: Power DV, Disse M, Hordinsky M. Progressive hair loss. J Fam Pract. 2017;66:521-523.

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