Vitiligo is a disorder that causes color loss in patches on the body. The affected area can lighten or turn completely white. Your dermatologist calls this “depigmentation.” Although it most frequently presents itself on a person’s skin, vitiligo can appear anywhere on your body, including hair, inside the mouth, nostrils, navel or genitals. Vitiligo cannot be cured, and it is not contagious.
Many people with vitiligo feel healthy, although some experience itchiness or pain where the skin is affected. Living with vitiligo can cause low self-esteem, anxiety or depression, regardless of the amount or type of vitiligo.
Who Gets It?
Millions of people worldwide are affected by this disease. Vitiligo strikes men and women and people of all races equally, and most develop symptoms before their 40th birthday. In fact, nearly half are diagnosed before the age of 21.
Vitiligo risk factors include the presence of an autoimmune disease such as Hashimoto’s disease, which affects the thyroid, or alopecia areata, which causes hair loss. Vitiligo is thought to run in families, although just because a close blood relative has vitiligo doesn’t necessarily mean that it will develop in you.
What Causes It?
Vitiligo develops when cells that give our skin and hair color, melanocytes, die. Non-segmental vitiligo may be an autoimmune disease when the body mistakes a part of itself as foreign. When this happens, it will attack and kill these cells. Studies suggest that the other type of vitiligo, segmental vitiligo, develops when something in the nervous system goes wrong.
Riverchase Dermatology physicians treat the two types of vitiligo. There is no way to predict how much color a person will lose. Areas of color loss can remain unchanged for years, then enlarge patches and create new ones. Some people report activation of white patching after experiencing a period of stress. On a rare occasion, the skin actually regains lost color.
This most common type of vitiligo is also called bilateral or generalized vitiligo or vitiligo vulgaris. It appears on both sides of the body, such as on the knees or both hands, often starting on hands, fingers, wrists, feet or around the eyes or mouth. Non-segmental vitiligo begins with a rapid loss of color, and then stops, only to resume this start and stop cycle throughout a person’s life, becoming more noticeable and covering more and more of the body.
Segmental (Unilateral) Vitiligo
This form appears on one segment of the body, often the leg, face or arm. About half of individuals with segmental vitiligo lose some hair color. This form usually begins at an early age and progresses for about a year and then stops its advancement.
If you suspect that you have vitiligo, a Riverchase Dermatologist will review your personal and family medical history and perform a physical exam, attending carefully to the affected areas of the body. The doctor may order a blood test to check the health of your thyroid gland. People with vitiligo sometimes have an autoimmune thyroid disease, and a blood test will confirm your thyroid health. If thyroid disease is discovered, treatment can successfully control it.
Most vitiligo treatment is designed to help restore lost skin color. Your best treatment option depends on many factors, including your general health, age and where white patches appear on your body. Some people choose not to treat vitiligo because some treatments can have unwanted side effects, take a long time to work or are unsuccessful.
Current treatment options include medications, phototherapy, bleaching, skin graft surgery, medical makeup or dye to camouflage white patches. It is not possible to predict how a patient will respond to treatment. It is important to keep in mind that no one treatment works for everyone. Results can vary from one part of the body to another. Combining two or more treatments often gives the best results.