Arthritis Drug Helps Grow Hair

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May 13, 2002 -- A drug used to treat autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis may help people with patchy baldness grow their hair back.

A new study shows the drug Azulfidine -- generic name sulfazalazine -- may be a safe and effective new alternative for treating severe alopecia areata, a form of baldness that affects about 2% of the population during their lifetime. The condition causes sudden, recurrent hair loss in clumps or patches from the scalp, eyebrows, and eyelashes. People with alopecia areata may only develop a few bald patches or may lose all of their hair.

Researchers at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor found 23% of the patients treated with the drug experienced a complete reversal of their condition with a cosmetically acceptable regrowth of hair. Some other patients had a milder reaction with some hair regrowth.

But those findings also mean the anti-inflammatory drug didn't work in the majority of the 30 patients tested.

Their complete report appears in the April issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

"When it works, it works great," study author John J. Voorhees, MD, of the University of Michigan, told Reuters Health. However, "in at least half of the people it doesn't work at all."

But the study authors say that Azulfidine has been used for many years to treat other conditions and has a good safety profile, which makes it a promising alternative for treating this type of baldness.

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