Disease: Vitiligo


What is vitiligo? Dr. Hamzavi explains how vitiligo can affect a person's self-esteem and lets us know that vitiligo is very treatable.

Vitiligo:This skin disease often forms on both sides of the body as shown here on the knees.

Vitiligo (vit-uh-lie-go) causes the skin to lose color. Patches of lighter skin appear. Some people develop a few patches. Others lose much more skin color.

Vitiligo usually affects the skin, but it can develop anywhere we have pigment. Patches of hair can turn white. Some people lose color inside their mouths. Even an eye can lose some of its color.

People of all races and ethnicities get vitiligo.

Vitiligo is not contagious. It is not life-threatening. But, vitiligo can be life-altering. Some people develop low self-esteem. They may no longer want to hang out with friends or develop serious depression. Most people have vitiligo for life, so it’s important to develop coping strategies.

A coping strategy that helps many people is to learn about vitiligo. Another helpful strategy is to connect with others who have vitiligo.

Source: https://www.aad.org

Signs, symptoms

Vitiligo causes loss of color. Your dermatologist may call this “loss of pigment” or “depigmentation.” We can lose pigment anywhere on our bodies, including our:

  • Skin.
  • Hair (scalp, eyebrow, eyelash, beard).
  • Inside the mouth.
  • Genitals.

Most people who get vitiligo lose color on their skin. The affected skin can lighten or turn completely white. Many people do not have any other signs or symptoms; they feel healthy.

A few people say that the skin affected by vitiligo itches or feels painful.

Living with vitiligo can cause other symptoms such as low self-esteem and depression that is hard to beat. This can happen regardless of the amount of color loss or type of vitiligo.

Vitiligo has types and subtypes

If you are diagnosed with vitiligo, your dermatologist may tell you what type and subtype you have.

Types: Today, most doctors recognize two types:
Segmental vitiligo

Also called:

  • Unilateral vitiligo
  • Appears on 1 segment of the body, such as a leg, face or arm.
  • About half of people lose some hair color, such as on the head, an eyelash or an eyebrow.
  • Often begins at an early age.
  • Often progresses for a year or so then stops.
Non-segmental vitiligo

Also called:

  • Bilateral vitiligo
  • Vitiligo vulgaris
  • Generalized vitiligo
  • Most common type.
  • Appears on both sides of the body, such as both hands or both knees.
  • Often begins on hands, fingertips, wrists, around the eyes or mouth, or on the feet.
  • Often begins with rapid loss of skin color, which then stops for a while. Color loss often starts up later. This start-and-stop cycle usually continues throughout a person's lifetime.
  • Color loss tends to expand, growing more noticeable and covering a larger area.

Images used with permission of Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (J Am Acad Dermatol 2010; 62:945-9).

Subtypes: The subtype tells you how much vitiligo appears on the body. The vitiligo subtypes are:
  • Localized: One or a few spots or patches appear, but these are limited to one or a few areas of the body.
  • Generalized: Most people develop this subtype, which causes scattered patches on the body.
  • Universal: Most pigment is gone. This is rare.

There is no way to predict how much color a person will lose. Color loss can remain unchanged for years. Some people see patches enlarge and new patches appear. On a rare occasion, the skin regains its lost color.

Source: https://www.aad.org

Who gets, causes

Who gets vitiligo?

Millions of people worldwide have vitiligo. Nearly half get it before they reach 21 years of age. Most will have vitiligo for the rest of their lives. It is very rare for vitiligo to disappear.

Vitiligo occurs about equally in people of all skin colors and races. About half the people who get vitiligo are male and half are female.

The risk of getting vitiligo increases if a person has:

  • A close blood relative who has vitiligo.
  • An autoimmune disease, especially Hashimoto’s disease (a thyroid disease) or alopecia areata (causes hair loss).

What causes vitiligo?

Vitiligo develops when cells called melanocytes (meh-lan-o-sites) die. These cells give our skin and hair color.

Scientists do not completely understand why these cells die. One type of vitiligo, non-segmental vitiligo, may be an autoimmune disease. An autoimmune disease develops when the body mistakes a part of itself as foreign. If the body mistakes these cells as foreigners, it will attack and kill these cells.

Studies suggest that the other type of vitiligo, segmental vitiligo, has a different cause. This type seems to develop when something in the body’s nervous system goes awry.

Source: https://www.aad.org

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