Vitiligo is a skin disorder in which smooth white areas (called macules or patches) appear on a person’s skin. It generally starts on the hands, forearms, feet, and face. Globally, about 1% of the population has vitiligo. Most people who have vitiligo will develop the condition prior to age 40; about half develop it before age 20.
Vitiligo may have a genetic component, as the condition tends to run in the family. Vitiligo is sometimes associated with other medical conditions, including thyroid dysfunction, type 1 diabetes mellitus, and Addison’s disease.
There is no way to confirm if vitiligo will spread or remain confined to one location.
What happens to the body in vitiligo?
Melanin is a dark pigment produced by melanocytes to give a dark tone to the skin. The progressive destruction of melanocytes by the immune system leads to depigmentation of the skin in the areas of affected melanocytes. The exact cause of this autoimmune destruction remains unknown.
Causes of vitiligo
Although the causes of vitiligo are not completely understood, there are a number of different theories.
- The affected person’s immune system may develop antibodies that destroy melanocytes.
- Genetic factors – Certain factors that may increase the chances of getting vitiligo can be inherited. About 30% of vitiligo cases run in families.
- Neurogenic factors – A substance toxic to melanocytes may be released at nerve endings in the skin.
- Vitiligo may also be triggered by certain events, such as physical or emotional stress.
Because none of the explanations seem to completely account for the condition, it is possible that a combination of these factors is responsible for vitiligo.
Types of vitiligo
- Generalized Vitiligo – This is the most common type. It occurs when macules appear in various areas of the body.
- Segmental Vitiligo – This type is restricted to one side of the body or one area, such as the hands or face.
- Mucosal Vitiligo – Here, the mucous membranes of the mouth and/or the genitals are affected.
- Focal Vitiligo – Focal vitiligo is a rare type in which the macules are in a small area and do not spread in a certain pattern within one to two years.
- Trichome Vitiligo- This means that there is a white or colourless center, an area of lighter pigmentation, and then an area of normally coloured skin.
Symptoms of vitiligo
White patches on the skin are the main sign of vitiligo. These patches are more common in areas where the skin is exposed to the sun. These patches may be on the hands, feet, arms, face, and lips. Other areas where white patches may appear are the armpits, groin, eyes, navel, genital and rectal areas. Sometimes, the areas of white patches may be itchy or have a tingling sensation.
Diagnosis of vitiligo
Usually, the white patches are easily visible on the skin, but doctors can use a Wood’s lamp, which shines ultraviolet (UV) light onto the skin to help differentiate from other skin conditions. Tests for other autoimmune conditions such as thyroid disease are also done since they sometimes occur together.
Treatment of vitiligo
- Repigmentation therapy
- Light therapy
- Camouflage therapy
Prevention of vitiligo
Since the exact cause of vitiligo remains uncertain, it is difficult to actively prevent it. Generally, it is smart for everyone to practice safe sun exposure habits and to take good care of their skin.
A word from HealthFacts to you
Vitiligo is an autoimmune disorder characterized by white skin patches on the skin due to the destruction of melanocytes. It is important to note that vitiligo is not contagious.
Till next time, stay informed and stay healthy!
Suggested Reading: Everything You Need To Know About Systemic Lupus Erythematosus