Vitiligo

Vitiligo facts*

Vitiligo facts medically edited by

  • 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, includingthyroid dysfunction.
  • 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 can be difficult to cure.

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 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.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/14/2014

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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.
What does vitiligo look like?

Vitiligo: A Common Cause of Loss of Skin Pigment

Melanin is the pigment that gives the skin its characteristic color. Vitiligo is caused by a loss of pigment in the skin, due to destruction of pigment-forming cells known as melanocytes. Although vitiligo affects all races equally, it is more noticeable in dark-skinned people. Vitiligo can cause cosmetic problems.


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