Vitiligo is a skin disorder that causes patches of white skin to appear on different parts of the body. It can occur in anyone, and affects all races and both genders equally. Worldwide, about 100 million people suffer from this condition and its prevalence in the United States is estimated to be around 1%.
What Causes Vitiligo?
In vitiligo, the cells responsible for giving the skin’s its color (the melanocytes) are destroyed, hence the appearance of white patches. There may be several factors that can cause these cells to be destroyed, and sometimes the exact cause is unknown. It is believed that vitiligo may be an autoimmune disease, which causes the immune system to start attacking the melanocytes. It can also arise due to a disorder in the melanocytes themselves, causing them to trigger pathways that result in ‘cell suicide’. Some researchers also believe that sunburn and chronic stress can cause vitiligo.
Symptoms of Vitiligo
The main symptoms of vitiligo are white patches on the skin. These patches often spread and become larger with time. The rate of spreading is highly variable – some people report very quick spreading while in others they spread slowly over several years. These patches tend to be found mostly on the areas that are exposed to the sun, such as the hands, feet, face and around the lips. However, they are also commonly found in the armpits and groin, at the navel, in the genital area, and at the nostrils. In addition, people with vitiligo often suffer from early graying of the hair.
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