Vitiligo (cont.)

Who is affected by vitiligo?

About 0.5 to 1 percent of the world's population, or as many as 65 million people, have vitiligo. In the United States, 1 to 2 million people have the disorder. Half the people who have vitiligo develop it before age 20; most develop it before their 40th birthday. The disorder affects both sexes and all races equally; however, it is more noticeable in people with dark skin.

Vitiligo seems to be somewhat more common in people with certain autoimmune diseases, including hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland), adrenocortical insufficiency (the adrenal gland does not produce enough of the hormone called corticosteroid), alopecia areata (patches of baldness), and pernicious anemia (a low level of red blood cells caused by the failure of the body to absorb vitamin B12). Scientists do not know the reason for the association between vitiligo and these autoimmune diseases. However, most people with vitiligo have no other autoimmune disease.

Vitiligo may also be hereditary; that is, it can run in families. Children whose parents have the disorder are more likely to develop vitiligo. In fact, 30 percent of people with vitiligo have a family member with the disease. However, only 5 to 7 percent of children will get vitiligo even if a parent has it, and most people with vitiligo do not have a family history of the disorder.

What are the symptoms vitiligo?

People who develop vitiligo usually first notice white patches (depigmentation) on their skin. These patches are more commonly found on sun-exposed areas of the body, including the hands, feet, arms, face, and lips. Other common areas for white patches to appear are the armpits and groin, and around the mouth, eyes, nostrils, navel, genitals, and rectum.

Vitiligo generally appears in one of three patterns:

  • focal pattern -- depigmentation limited to one or only a few areas
  • segmental pattern -- depigmented patches that develop on one side of the body
  • generalized pattern -- the most common pattern. Depigmentation occurs symmetrically on both sides of the body.

In addition to white patches on the skin, people with vitiligo may have premature graying of the scalp hair, eyelashes, eyebrows, and beard. People with dark skin may notice a loss of color inside their mouths.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/14/2014

Patient Comments

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.

STAY INFORMED

Get the Latest health and medical information delivered direct to your inbox!