Systemic treatments for alopecia areata: a systematic review

Vivien Wai Yun Lai, Gang Chen, Douglas Gin, Rodney Sinclair

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A range of systemic treatments are used for alopecia areata with variable evidence supporting efficacy. In this systematic review, we evaluated the evidence surrounding systemic treatments for alopecia areata, alopecia totalis and alopecia universalis. A systematic search was conducted of the peer-reviewed literature published between 1946 and March 2018 via Medline, Embase, Amed, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, PsychINFO and Lilacs. All randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that evaluated the effectiveness of systemic treatments for individuals with alopecia areata, totalis or universalis were included. Sixteen studies were included with a total of 768 participants. We found eight placebo-controlled RCTs, three RCTs comparing two systemic treatments and five RCTs comparing three treatments. A total of 15 different systemic therapies were investigated. The most frequently investigated therapy was oral prednisolone pulse therapy and oral inosiplex. There was significant variability in the definition of treatment success. No study evaluated the impact of pharmacotherapy on quality of life using complete quantitative quality of life instruments. Adverse events were reported in 13 studies and were corticosteroid related or otherwise well tolerated. Relapse rates were considerable in the four studies that reported this outcome. There is currently no specific systemic therapy that is supported by robust body of evidence from RCTs. The current evidence suggests efficacy of oral prednisolone pulse therapy and oral inosiplex. Evidence does not support the use of oral zinc sulphate, alefacept and efalizumab. Future RCTs should be adequately powered and employ clearly defined clinical response endpoints to allow future meta-analyses.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages13
JournalAustralasian Journal of Dermatology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019


  • alopecia areata
  • biological therapy
  • drug therapy
  • glucocorticoids
  • hair diseases
  • immunomodulation
  • review

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