Hair loss (alopecia) affects men and women of all ages. It can be the result of aging, genetic predisposition, medication, or an underlying medical condition. People lose their hair in patterned areas or patches, or hair can thin all over. It can be a source of frustration, embarrassment and, sometimes, severe emotional distress.
Strip-graft scalp treatment (follicular unit transplantation) is a form of surgery that treats hair loss by using a strip of donor scalp and hair tissue for transplantation. Although effective, it is not performed as frequently as it once was because it causes scarring, and requires considerable downtime.
Candidates for Strip-Graft Scalp Treatment
Candidates for strip-graft scalp treatment include almost any adult, male or female, who is experiencing noticeable hair loss. A good candidate has healthy areas of hair at the back or on the sides of the scalp. Most often, strip-graft treatment is recommended for patients who have male or female pattern hair loss (androgenic alopecia). However, it is also considered a good option for patients experiencing baldness following injury, disease or a previous scalp surgery.
The Strip-Graft Scalp Treatment Procedure
Strip-graft treatments are performed using local anesthesia. The procedure begins with the removal of a strip of donor hair and tissue from either the back or sides of the scalp. These areas are used because hair on the top of the scalp tends to be thinner than hair at the back or sides. The entire strip is then transplanted into a trench-like area that has been cut out in the balding portion of the scalp.
Because of the large size of the graft, a large area of the scalp is cut into. The strip-graft procedure can take several hours to complete, depending on the size of the area being treated. The transplanted hair graft is sutured securely in place, and the sutures typically remain in the scalp for 10 to 15 days, or until the area has healed. The newly implanted hair follicles remain dormant for approximately 3 months, at which point they begin to grow in the same way that "normal" hair does; they should eventually fully cover the recipient area.
Risks of Strip-Graft Scalp Treatment
The most significant risk associated with strip-graft treatment is scarring, which is almost always unavoidable because of the incisions involved. Other complications of strip-graft treatment include the following:
- Tenderness of the scalp
- Unnatural-looking hair growth
- Blood vessel damage
- Shock loss (sudden loss of existing or newly transplanted hair)
Folliculitis, which is an infection or inflammation of the new hair follicles, is also a risk of the surgery.
Recovery from Strip-Graft Scalp Treatment
The recovery period from strip-graft scalp treatment is about 2 weeks. Patients who experience infection, bleeding or folliculitis may need to take antibiotics or pain medication following surgery. Patients who want even thicker hair may undergo a second procedure, which can be performed several months after the initial surgery. In order to minimize the risks, patients should undergo strip-graft treatment only if they are in good health.