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Vitiligo- Causes, Symptoms, Prevention & Treatment

Approx. 0.25% to 4% Indians suffer from Vitiligo.

Vitiligo is a skin condition causing white patches due to lost pigmentation. The patches may start on hands, forearms, feet, and face. It affects about 1% of people globally. It shows up more in those with brown or black skin. It diminishes as cells producing it stop working. While not contagious or life-threatening, Vitiligo can be challenging.

These white patches can grow over time and also affect hair and the inside of the mouth. Treatment is available. But treatment isn't necessary unless you're bothered by the changes in skin tone. It might help bring back color to the affected areas but doesn't stop further color loss.

Vitiligo Meaning

Vitiligo is a skin condition leading to the loss of skin color or pigmentation. If hair is present in the affected area, it may also turn white or silver. The condition arises from the immune system attacking cells which produce the pigment that gives skin its color.

Vitiligo impacts individuals of all races and genders. However, the visibility may be higher in those with darker skin tones. While it can develop at any age, macules or patches generally become noticeable before the age of 30. Certain autoimmune conditions may elevate the risk of developing Vitiligo. Addison's disease, lupus, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, and thyroid disease, to name a few.

It is important to understand that Vitiligo is not limited to a specific demographic. It is a disease that affects pigmentation.

Notable Vitiligo symptoms

Understanding Vitiligo: A Quick Guide

  • Visible Vitiligo Symptoms:

    • Patchy loss of skin color. The signs may start appearing on hands, face, and around body openings and genitals.

    • Premature whitening or graying of hair.

    • Loss of color in mucous membrane tissues inside the mouth and nose.

  • Age Onset and Commonality:

    • Vitiligo can emerge at any age but manifests before the age of 30.

    • It affects people irrespective of age or gender. However, it is more prominent in those under 30.

  • Types and Their Characteristics:

    • Universal Vitiligo: Discoloration extends across almost all skin surfaces.

    • Generalized Vitiligo: Patches progress on various body parts.

    • Segmental Vitiligo: Affects only one side or part of the body, often halting after a year or two.

    • Localized (Focal) Vitiligo: Limited to specific areas of the body.

    • Acrofacial Vitiligo: Impacts the face and hands, including areas around body openings.

  • Progression and Uncertainty:

    • Progression varies; patches may stop forming without treatment.

    • Pigment loss often spreads, encompassing a significant part of the skin.

    • The skin may regain its color, highlighting the unpredictable nature of the disease.

This guide provides a concise overview, emphasizing the diverse symptoms associated with Vitiligo.

What causes Vitiligo disease?

There is no definitive information on the causes of Vitiligo. Current research points to several potential factors:

  • Autoimmune Conundrum:

    • Vitiligo may stem from an autoimmune response. The immune system may identify healthy melanocytes as threats. This may lead to an overreaction. This causes an increase in the creation of antibodies targeting these cells.

  • Genetic Complexity:

    • Genetic changes could influence the functioning of melanocytes, increasing the susceptibility to Vitiligo. Approximately 30% of cases are genetic, indicating a hereditary aspect.

  • Stress as a Player:

    • Emotional or physical stress, especially post-injury, might alter melanocyte activity, affecting pigment production. Stress emerges as a potential contributor to the development or exacerbation of Vitiligo.

  • Environmental Triggers:

    • Factors like ultraviolet radiation and exposure to toxic chemicals could impact melanocyte function. The exposure may play a role in the onset or progression of Vitiligo.

Genetic Link:

Studies suggest a hereditary connection. Around 30% of cases have a genetic basis. Genetic mutations influencing melanocyte function are inheritable, manifesting as vitiligo symptoms.

Diagnosis & Treatment

Diagnosing Vitiligo involves an examination of possible vitiligo symptoms by a healthcare provider. The professionals may often use a Wood's lamp with ultraviolet light. The instrument helps them distinguish it from other skin conditions. Insights from discussions about medical and family history contribute to an accurate diagnosis. Several conditions can resemble Vitiligo. The conditions may include chemical leukoderma, tinea versicolor, albinism, and pityriasis alba. Hence, it is important to recognize the distinctions for proper assessment.

Vitiligo treatment is cosmetic, with various options available. Certain medications may slow pigment loss. The list includes corticosteroids, topical Janus kinase inhibitors, and calcineurin inhibitors. They may also stimulate melanocyte regrowth.

Light therapy, utilizing light boxes, UVB lights, or lasers, aims to restore skin color. PUVA is known to be effective for widespread cases. Depigmentation therapy, induced by monobenzone, aligns unaffected skin with vitiligo-affected areas. Surgical options, such as skin grafts or blister grafting, may also be considered.

The decision is based on factors like the speed of vitiligo spread. Susceptibility to scarring may also be a deciding factor. This decision must be taken cautiously.

Therapy offers support for self-esteem issues, anxiety, or depression associated with skin changes.

Final Thoughts

Understanding and dealing with Vitiligo presents unique challenges. The causes of this disease are not completely known. But factors like genetics, autoimmune responses, and environmental triggers contribute to its development. Unfortunately, preventing Vitiligo is uncertain due to its complex nature. Yet, adopting certain practices might reduce potential risks. The list includes safe sun exposure, moisturizing, stress management, and addressing autoimmune conditions.

Early diagnosis and timely intervention play a vital role in managing Vitiligo. Dermatologists offer diverse treatments to restore natural skin tone and curb its spread. Sun protection becomes crucial, as vitiligo-affected skin is prone to sunburn.

A definitive cure for Vitiligo is not yet available. However, research shows that prompt intervention addresses its physical and emotional impact. Timely treatment not only manages the condition but also improves mental well-being. Proactive sun protection and early dermatological care are key to managing Vitiligo. Adopting a holistic approach that considers both physical and emotional aspects is important. Consult a professional as soon as light-colored spots appear. Timely diagnosis and treatment are a must for efficient management.


The Author : Dr. Sunil Khattri

+91 9811618704

Dr. Sunil Khattri MBBS, MS(General Surgery), LLB, is a Medical doctor and is a practicing Advocate in the Supreme Court of India and National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, New Delhi.

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