Vitiligo

Vitiligo overview

Vitiligo is the autoimmune destruction of melanocytes. No one knows what causes vitiligo, but they are located in the skin, which prompts the loss of natural skin color. The skin is the largest organ of the body. It is made up of:

  1. The epidermis: is the outer layer of the skin and contains melanocytes. Melanocytes are melanin-producing cells responsible for our skin color. 
  2. The dermis is the second layer and contains hair follicles and sweat glands.
  3. The hypodermis (subcutaneous tissue) is the innermost layer and is made up of fat and connective tissue.

Vitiligo affects 1% to 2% of the general world population and occurs at any age, but the usual onset is in the twenties.  

The attack on melanocytes causes reduces the pigment of the skin. It starts with fewer areas of patchy hypopigmented areas (lightened or white patches of skin), and over time, it spreads to more areas, and the patches become bigger. 

Loss of pigmentation can be found on the face, neck, scalp, lips, genitals, hands, arms, feet, and hair (premature whitening of eyelashes, eyebrows, beard, and hair on the head).

Is Vitiligo curable?

There is no cure, there is no specific medication for vitiligo, but topical steroid, ultraviolet B light therapy, calcineurin inhibitors (tacrolimus, pimecrolimus), and psoralen combined with phototherapy has been proven to help return lightened or white patchy skin color back to its original color.

Types of Vitiligo

Several types of vitiligo have been grouped into 2 categories: segmental and non-segmental.

Segmental vitiligo

Segmental vitiligo is the hypopigmentation of a single segment. It affects one side of the body and spreads more rapidly but more constant and stable. The patch’s forms are different in appearance and tend to associate less with other autoimmune diseases.

Non-segmental vitiligo

Non-segmental vitiligo is the hypopigmentation of several parts of the body. It is more erratic, less stable, and new patches can appear on any part of the body at any time. Patches are similar in appearance and mostly associate with other autoimmune diseases. Non-segmental vitiligo is characterized into:

  • Generalized vitiligo (Is the most prevalent type of vitiligo and can affect all parts of the body)
  • Universal vitiligo 
  • Focal vitiligo (is most common in children and it is characterized by the presence of few hypopigmented patches in one area of the body)
  • Mucosal vitiligo (patches of hypopigmentation in the mucous membrane)
  • Acrofacial vitiligo (hypopigmentation is mainly presence on face and hands)

Risk Factors of Vitiligo:

  • History of other Autoimmune diseases
  • Family history of vitiligo
  • Triggers such as stress, sunburn, and chemicals

Diagnosis of Vitiligo:

  • Skin biopsy
  • Serum antibodies investigation to check for the association of other autoimmune diseases.

Is vitiligo bad for health?

Vitiligo does not cause any health issues in the absence of other autoimmune diseases, but most people who have vitiligo tend to have other autoimmune disorders such as:

Note: 

  • Vitiligo can lead to depression due to social stigma.
  • Vitiligo increases the risk of skin cancer.
  • Vitiligo increases the risk of experiences sunburn more often.
  • Surgeries such as skin grafting, micro-pigmentation (tattooing), and blister grafting are alternative ways to treat vitiligo.
  • Investing in psychotherapy can help improve oneself and overcome depression or prevent depression that occurs due to social stigma.
  • Attending a support group is also a beneficial tool to live a life where the person suffering from vitiligo can love him or herself and create happiness in his or her life irrespective of what anyone else thinks of them.