Melanin is the pigment that decides the color of your skin, eyes and hair. When there is loss of melanocytes, your skin develops patches without the melanin pigment. These patches are pale and white and this condition is known as vitiligo. It is an acquired long-term skin disorder which is not contagious or infectious. These irregular looking patches feel entirely normal to touch but look pale and white.
Who can be affected?
About 0.5% to 2% of the world population is supposed to suffer from vitiligo. People of all ethnicities are equally affected. Male and female patients are about equal in number; but more female cases are reported and known. About 50% of vitiligo patients have their first white patch before 20 years of age. Vitiligo occurring in advanced years is not common. Vitiligo does not commonly occur in infants or very elderly.
Vitiligo affects different people differently. But precisely why melanin loss occurs suddenly or how much skin will be affected is not known and cannot be predicted accurately either. Researchers say that vitiligo has a complex pathogenesis. It can be polygenic. Also genetic as well non-genetic factors can be causes for melanocyte loss. But 30% of the patients have a family member suffering from vitiligo.
What increases the chance of vitiligo development? Factors are like
- Family history of vitiligo.
- Excess exposure to chemicals containing phenol substances.
- Presence of additional autoimmune problem – like hyperthyroidism where the patient’s immune system becomes overactive, and destroys the melanocytes.
- A stressful event.
- A neural cause.
- A viral cause.
It is presumed that melanocyte destruction may be due to
- Autoimmune mechanisms.
- Intrinsic defect of melanocytes.
- Cytotoxic mechanisms.
- Oxidant-antioxidant mechanisms.
- Neural mechanisms.
Types of vitiligo
Vitiligo symptoms can appear anywhere, but often face and regions usually exposed to sun are more commonly involved. Some patients get several small, white patches contained to one area. Other people get bigger white patches that join up across large areas of skin. There are two types of vitiligo reported like –
- Non-segmental vitiligo
- Segmental vitiligo
And subtypes depending on discoloration extent are like
- Generalized – Bilateral
- Localized – Focal
- Universal – Total loss of pigmentation
Vitiligo is unpredictable and melanocyte loss can be progressive. The effects of pigment loss can be severe with intense psychological agony and quality of life poor and diminished. The vitiligo treatment is aimed at stopping and slowing down the pigment loss process and putting some color back on the white patches.
- Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology and Leperology – A clinical study of vitiligo (Jacintha Martis, Ramesh Bhat, B Nandakishore, JN Shetty) view
- Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology and Leperology – Childhood vitiligo (Aparna Palit, Arun C Inamadar) view
- Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine – Vitiligo view
- Emedicine Health – Vitiligo view
- Mayo Clinic – Vitiligo view
- University of Maryland Medical Center – Vitiligo Overview view
- British Association of Dermatology view
- US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health – Vitiligo: a comprehensive overview view
- NHS UK – Vitiligo view