Background and design: Thirty-two patients with mild to extensive alopecia areata, including 16 patients with alopecia totalis or universalis, entered a randomized, controlled trial of a 6-week taper of prednisone followed by either 2% topical minoxidil or vehicle applied three times daily for an additional 14 weeks. The results of this study were compared with an open trial of 48 patients with alopecia areata treated with a similar taper of prednisone with concomitant 2% topical minoxidil applied twice daily. Only terminal hair growth was considered and was quantitated as 1% to 24%, 25% to 49%, 50% to 74%, and 75% to 100%: only those with more than 25% terminal hair regrowth were considered to have had an objective response.
Results: At the end of 6 weeks of prednisone, 47% (15/32) of patients had more than 25% regrowth, including nine of 20 patients who had had at least 75% hair loss at baseline. Side effects of prednisone were primarily weight gain and mood changes/emotional lability. At 3 months, six of seven minoxidil-treated patients vs one of six vehicle-treated patients who had an objective response to prednisone maintained or augmented this hair growth: at the 20-week visit, these numbers were three of seven and zero of four patients, respectively. In the open trial, objective hair growth with prednisone was 30%, related to the extent of hair loss at baseline, and this growth persisted in more than 50% of patients at 6 months with the use of 2% topical minoxidil.
Conclusions: A 6-week taper of prednisone offers potential for more than 25% regrowth in 30% to 47% of patients with alopecia areata with predictable and transient side effects. Two percent topical minoxidil three times daily appears to help limit poststeroid hair loss.