Vitiligo is considered to be due to various factors. The patient’s immune system rejects and destroys the melanocytes as the foreign tissues. But why they are considered as foreign and should be attacked is not understood. But the condition is slow yet progressive as more melanocytes are destroyed and melanin production becomes nil and makes the skin look pale and white.
What research says?
Non-segmental vitiligo is regarded as due to autoimmune response and segmental vitiligo may be because of a malfunction in the body’s nervous system. The hypothesis concerning the melanocyte destruction centers on
- Autoimmune mechanism – Cytotoxic mechanism – melanocytes are destroyed because of malfunctioning autoimmune system.
- Oxidant-antioxidant mechanisms – melanocytes are destroyed because of some metabolic product from melanin synthesis.
- Neural mechanisms – segmental vitiligo is considered to be due to neurochemicals released from skin nerve endings.
- Intrinsic defect of melanocytes – the body’s melanocytes have a natural defect which results in their destruction.
But any of the above reasons alone has not been proved conclusively/satisfactorily as the cause to vitiligo and now a composite form of hypothesis is considered as the possible cause.
The ultimate cause of vitiligo is yet to be established. But along with melanocyte loss and nil melanin production, immunologic changes and alterations and other malfunctions at molecular level contribute to vitiligo. While in albinism, the melanocytes are present but cannot synthesize melanin, in vitiligo, there is complete destruction of melanocytes and no melanin production that gives color to skin, hair and eye color.
Various factors play a role in causing vitiligo onset.
- Genetics – occurrence of vitiligo can look like random, but there is a family history at least in 20% of the patients.
- Family history of additional autoimmune medical conditions – autoimmune conditions like hyperthyroidism, diabetes, alopecia areata and rheumatoid arthritis can be triggers or which in case advanced age onset vitiligo, patient may be susceptible to develop.
- Long-term exposure to phenol products is supposed to lead to melanocyte loss.
- A personal history of extra sensitivity to sunrays.
- Presence of multiple atypical moles or melanoma.
- Stress – mental trauma, physical stress or illness/injury.
When your skin or hair lose their color and look pale in spots and patchy areas, it is time to seek medical help .The white patches caused by vitiligo are usually permanent, although there are treatment options to improve the appearance of your skin.
- Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology and Leperology – A clinical study of vitiligo (Jacintha Martis, Ramesh Bhat, B Nandakishore, JN Shetty) view
- University of Maryland Medical Center – Vitiligo Overview view
- British Association of Dermatology view
- Mayo Clinic – Vitiligo Causes view
- American Association of Dermatology – Vitiligo: Who gets and Causes view
- Emedicine Health – Vitiligo Risk Factors view
- NHS UK – Vitiligo Causes view