Has your skin lost color in places? It could be an autoimmune disorder.

Vitiligo, Health Network News

Patches of lighter skin are the main sign of vitiligo, a medical condition that can occur at any age.

SUMMARY: Vitiligo is a noncontagious lifelong disorder where the cells that make skin color are destroyed. Patches of white skin form, usually on both sides of the body.

Vitiligo is a non-contagious disorder that causes the skin to have pigment-free white patches. It occurs when melanocytes, or cells that make color in the skin are destroyed.

The exact cause of vitiligo is unknown, although it is suspected to be an autoimmune disease where the immune system destroys the melanocytes in the skin. The condition may also have a genetic component since children who have parents with vitiligo are more likely to develop the disorder.

Facts about vitiligo

  • White patches of skin often occur on both sides of the body, as shown in the photograph.
  • In addition to white patches on their skin, vitiligo can also cause the inside of the nose or mouth or an eye to lose color.
  • Most people develop vitiligo before age 40, usually in their 20s, although it can occur at any age.
  • People with certain autoimmune diseases (like hyperthyroidism) have a higher likelihood of acquiring vitiligo, but most people with the condition do not have other autoimmune diseases.
  • Vitiligo may cause your hair to turn prematurely grey.
  • There is no way to determine the extent of the white patches. if they will spread, or how quickly they will spread.
  • Some people with the condition have reported that they have had a spread of the white patches after experiencing emotional or physical stress.

How is vitiligo treated?

Treatments of vitiligo seek to make the skin color look more even. Treatment options depend on the number of white patches and the extent of the pigment loss. Options include:

  • Creams that are applied to the skin
  • Medications that you take by mouth
  • Treatments with ultraviolet light
  • Skin grafts
  • Tattooing
  • Using sunscreens and cosmetics

People with vitiligo can have low self-esteem issues that can be life altering. They may not want to go out in public and/or develop depression. Since this is a life-long disorder, we encourage people with vitiligo to develop coping strategies, such as connecting with others with the condition.

Resources: To learn more, we recommend visiting NIAMS, the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases information clearinghouse. Other information is available at the American Academy of Dermatology website.

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