Vitiligo facts medically edited by Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
- Vitiligo is a disease in which the pigment cells of the skin, melanocytes, are destroyed in certain areas.
- Vitiligo results in depigmented, or white, patches of skin in any location on the body.
- Vitiligo can be focal and localized to one area, or it may affect several different areas on the body.
- The exact cause of vitiligo is unknown, although most experts believe that it is an autoimmune condition in which the body's immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys certain cells within the body.
- Most people who have vitiligo will develop the condition prior to age 40; about half develop it before age 20.
- Vitiligo tends to run in families.
- Vitiligo is sometimes associated with other medical conditions, including pernicious anemia.
- Vitiligo is not painful and does not have significant health consequences; however, it can have emotional and psychological consequences.
- Some medical treatments can reduce the severity of the condition, but it cannot be cured.
What is vitiligo, and what causes it?
Vitiligo (pronounced vit-ill-EYE-go) is a pigmentation disorder in which melanocytes
(the cells that make pigment) in the skin are destroyed. As a result, white
patches appear on the skin in different parts of the body. Similar patches also
appear on both the mucous membranes (tissues that line the inside of the mouth
and nose) and the retina (inner layer of the eyeball). The hair that grows on
areas affected by vitiligo sometimes turns white.
The cause of vitiligo is not known, but doctors and researchers have several
different theories. There is strong evidence that people with vitiligo inherit a
group of three genes that make them susceptible to depigmentation. The most
widely accepted view is that the depigmentation occurs because vitiligo is an
autoimmune disease -- a disease in which a person's immune system reacts against
the body's own organs or tissues. People's bodies produce proteins
called cytokines that, in vitiligo, alter their pigment-producing cells and cause these cells
to die. Another theory is that melanocytes destroy themselves. Finally, some
people have reported that a single event such as sunburn or emotional distress
triggered vitiligo; however, these events have not been scientifically proven as
causes of vitiligo.
Viewers share their comments
Vitiligo - Effective Treatments
Question: What kinds of treatments have been effective for your vitiligo?
Vitiligo - Diagnosis
Question: How was your vitiligo diagnosed?
Vitiligo - Depigmented Patches
Question: Describe your type of vitiligo, its location on your body, and the progression of your depigmented patches.
Vitiligo - Coping
Question: What coping methods have helped you in dealing with the emotional and psychological issues associated with vitiligo?
Vitiligo - Personal Experience
Question: With your first symptoms, did you suspect vitiligo or think it might be something else? Please describe your experience.