Vitiligo

Definition

Vitiligo is a disorder in which white patches develop on the skin. The patches may appear on any part of the body, including the hair, eyes, and mouth.

Causes

The white patches are due to the destruction of melanocytes cells. These cells in the skin make pigment. Loss of pigment causes the skin to become lighter. It looks especially lighter compared to normal skin nearby. This is why vitiligo is more visible in darker-skinned people.The exact cause of the pigment loss is not known. Possible causes include:
  • The body’s immune system may destroy the melanocytes
  • Melanocytes may destroy themselves
  • Defective nerve cells may make toxic substances that harm the melanocytes
It is likely that a genetic defect makes the cells more vulnerable to damage.

Risk Factors

Vitiligo is more common in people between the ages of 10 and 30 years. Other factors that may increase your chance for vitiligo include:
  • Family members with vitiligo or hair turning gray early
  • Certain autoimmune diseases, such as thyroid disease

Symptoms

The main symptom is white patches on the skin. These patches may be clumped together or all over the body. Some common sites of pigment loss include:
  • Areas exposed to the sun such as the face, hands, arms, and upper part of the chest
  • Areas around body openings such as the eyes, nostrils, mouth, navel, and genitals
  • Body folds such as the groin and armpits
  • Sites of chronic minor injury such as knuckles and elbows
  • Sites of injury such as scrapes, cuts, and burns
  • The area around moles
White or prematurely graying hair and hair loss may also occur.Vitiligo often begins with a rapid loss of skin color. This is followed by a long period without any change. Cycles of pigment loss and stability may occur again later. The cycle can continue throughout life.

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam and eye exam will be done. The diagnosis is usually made by the appearance of the skin. A skin biopsy may be done to confirm. Special UV lamps may be used during the skin exam. Blood tests are often taken to look for signs of autoimmune diseases.

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