What is Vitiligo?


Vitiligo, or leukoderma, is a chronic pigmentation disorder where the melanocytes (the pigment producing cells) in the skin, including the mucous membranes (tissues that line the inside of the mouth, nose, genital and rectal areas) are destroyed. Vitiligo also affects the retina of the eye. This results in white patches of skin appearing on various parts of the body. Hair that grows on affected patches usually turns white.

The exact cause of vitiligo is complex and not completely understood although there is some evidence suggesting that it may be caused by a combination of auto-immune, genetic, and environmental factors. Some theoretical causes are: – That, due to an auto-immune disorder, people affected by vitiligo develop antibodies that destroy the melanocytes in their own bodies. That the melanocytes go into a self-destruct mode and destroy themselves. Vitiligo may also be hereditary. Physical, or emotional distress can trigger the onset. For example, sunburn.

Who Is Affected by Vitiligo?

95% of people who have vitiligo will develop the disorder before their 40th birthday. Between 1% and 2% of the world’s population will suffer from it. Vitiligo affects all races and both sexes equally.
There is a higher incidence of vitiligo in people with certain autoimmune diseases such as hyperthyroidism (overactivity of the thyroid gland), adrenocortical insufficiency (where the adrenal gland does not produce enough corticosteroid), alopecia areata (patches of baldness), and pernicious anemia (a low level of red blood cells that is caused by failure to absorb vitamin B-12). There is no know the reason for the association between vitiligo and any of these autoimmune diseases, and the majority people who have vitiligo have no other autoimmune disease.

What Are the Symptoms of Vitiligo?

White patches on their skin. Usually, these patches are more common in areas that are exposed to sunlight, including the hands, feet, arms, face, and lips. Other common areas for these patches to appear are around the mouth, eyes, nostrils, navel, the armpits, and on the groin and genitals.

Vitiligo usually follows one of three patterns: –

  • Focal pattern – Where the loss of pigmentation is limited to one or only a few areas.
  • Segmental pattern – Where the patches appear on only one side of the body.
  • Generalized pattern – Where the loss of pigmentation occurs on different parts of the body.

Additionly,those suffering with vitiligo may have premature graying of the scalp hair, eyelashes, eyebrows, and beard.

Does Vitiligo Spread?

Although the disorder is usually progressive and, over time, the white patches will spread to other areas of the body, there is no way to predict if vitiligo will spread. With some, the spread is slow and takes many years. With others, there can be a much more rapid spread. There is no way to predict if vitiligo will spread. For some people, the depigmented patches do not spread. The disorder is usually progressive, however, and over time the white patches will spread to other areas of the body. For some people, vitiligo spreads slowly, over many years. For other people, spreading occurs rapidly. Some people have reported additional depigmentation following periods of physical or emotional stress.