Alopecia – also known as hair loss – is more common than you think.

Actress Jada Pinkett Smith has opened up about her struggle with alopecia (hair loss) in her Facebook chat show, Red Table Talk.

The Gotham star said she was losing “handfuls of hair” in the shower. “It was one of those times in my life where I was literally shaking with fear,” she said.

“It was terrifying when it first started,” said Pinkett Smith who wore a turban during the interview.  

Pinkett Smith said her doctors could not identify the cause of her hair loss, but they believe it might be related to stress.

But what exactly is alopecia and how can it be treated? We take a closer look.

What is alopecia?

According to a Health24 review, hair loss is very common and can affect the scalp as well as other areas of the body.

This chronic inflammatory condition occurs when your body’s immune system attacks hair follicles – structures that contain the roots of the hair – resulting in distinct areas of hair loss (also called patchy hair loss).

Hair loss can be gradual, or it can happen suddenly. And it can happen to anyone, young and old, male and female, and children too. It's also normal for women between the ages of 40 and 50 to lose about 20% of their hair.

Why does it happen?

There are many reasons why it occurs, but some common ones are:

- Insult to the body. Telogen effluvium is temporary hair loss of up to a third of a person's hair due an "insult to the body". Common causes are crash diets, exam stress, big operations, pregnancy and divorce/loss of a loved one.

- A lack of nutrients. Iron and zinc deficiencies are commonly associated with alopecia.

- Medication. Certain medications such as oral contraceptives, blood thinners and the beta blocker propranolol can cause hair loss.

- Genes. Male pattern baldness is the most common form of alopecia and is of genetic predetermination. If there is baldness anywhere in your family (on either on your mother's or father's side), you will probably become bald too.

Can it be treated?

According to Health24, there are three common treatments for alopecia:

1. Medication. Medications such as finasteride, minoxidil and steroids have been used to fight off hair loss effectively.

2. Stem-cell therapy. The patient’s blood is placed into a sophisticated centrifugal machine that separates the protein-rich platelets from other components. These are then injected directly into the sparse recipient area to promote hair growth. It is most effective when used in combination with other transplant procedures.

3. Hair-transplantation surgery. If all else fails, tiny individual micro- and mini-follicular units not affected by the hair-loss process are relocated from the sides of the head (donor area) into the area of bald skin (recipient site). Transplanted hair can be cut, washed and styled just like normal hair.

- Health24