What Is Vitiligo?
Vitiligo is a disorder in which white patches appear on the skin over different parts of the body. This happens because the cells, called melanocytes, that make pigment in the skin are destroyed. Vitiligo can also affect the mucous membranes (such as the tissue inside the mouth and nose) and the eye. Vitiligo is a non-lethal condition, but it can have devastating effect on ones psyche and social life.
What Causes Vitiligo?
It is currently thought that vitiligo represents a group of different conditions with a similar outcome - white patches appearing on the skin. So, conditions like emotional stress, viral infections, genetic predisposition, accumulation of toxins, altered cellular environment, impaired melanocyte migration and autoimmunity can lead to vitiligo. It is believed that autoimmune mechanisms (other autoimmune disorders include Grave's disease, psoriasis and Type 1 diabetes) underlie most cases of vitiligo. In autoimmune disorders, the body's immune system attacks its own cells, and in the case of vitiligo, the melanocytes are targeted and destroyed.
Who Gets Vitiligo?
Most people with vitiligo start developing symptoms in their twenties. It affects all races and sexes equally, however, it is more noticeable in people with dark skin.
People with certain autoimmune diseases, are more likely to get vitiligo, compared to others who do not have any autoimmune disorders. Vitiligo also tends to run in families. Children whose parents have vitiligo are more likely to develop it. However, most children will not get vitiligo even if a parent has it.
What Are the 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, and may also appear around the mouth and eyes, around the navel and over the genital and rectal regions. People with vitiligo often have hair that turns grey early.
Vitiligo is not painful and does not have significant health consequences; however, it can have emotional and psychological consequences.
Will the Patches Spread?
There is no way to tell if vitiligo will spread. For some people, the white patches do not spread. For some, vitiligo spreads slowly, over many years but in some, it may spread more quickly.
How Is Vitiligo Diagnosed?
The diagnosis of vitiligo is mainly a clinical one. Your doctor with ask about your symptoms, the presence of other autoimmune diseases, whether or not you have a family history of vitiligo, if you may have had a stressful event which may have triggered the condition, if your hair turned gray before the age of 35 etc.
Your doctor will perform a physical exam to rule out other medical problems and occasional may order some tests, which may include a skin biopsy, blood tests and an eye examination.
How Is Vitiligo Treated?
Treatment may help make the skin look more evenly coloured. The choice of treatment depends on: the number of patches and how widespread they are. Some treatments are not right for everyone. Treatments can have unwanted side effects and can take a long time to show any signs of improvement.
Medical treatments include topical medication, oral medication, ultraviolet radiation therapy etc. Surgical treatments may include skin grafts (where normal skin is grafted to replace the vitiligo patches), and tattooing.
Other treatments include sunscreens and cosmetics to hide the white patches.
What Can People Do to Cope With Vitiligo?
Find a doctor who has the required expertise to treat vitiligo. Learn more about the condition and join a support group to journey with.
Some people with vitiligo have found that cosmetics can improve their appearance and help them feel better about themselves. You may need to try several brands of concealing cosmetics before finding the product that works best for your skin type.