Vitiligo

Vitiligo is a chronic skin condition in which a loss of pigment causes irregular white patches. The discoloration is due to a loss of melanin, the pigment responsible for skin color. Vitiligo can affect people of any age, gender, or skin tone.

Cause

The cause of vitiligo is unknown, but it appears to be an inherited autoimmune disorder. Approximately 30 percent of individuals with vitiligo have relatives with the condition.

Vitiligo is associated with three systemic autoimmune diseases:

• Pernicious anemia: a disease that occurs when the body cannot properly absorb vitamin B12, which causes a decrease in red blood cells.
• Hyperthyroidism: a condition in which the thyroid releases too much hormone. 
• Addison’s disease: a disorder characterized by insufficient hormone production from the adrenal glands.

Symptoms

People with vitiligo may notice a gradual loss of pigment on skin that is otherwise normal. The most commonly affected areas of the body are the face, elbows, knees, hands, and feet. The patches are typically sharply defined but irregular, with a darker border.

Types

There are three types of vitiligo:

• General, or non-segmented, vitiligo causes widespread pigment loss across the entire body.
• Segmented vitiligo is characterized by patches of pigment loss on only one side of the body.
• Focal vitiligo is the least severe type and causes only a few small patches of pigment loss on the body.

Treatment

Although there is no cure for vitiligo, skin discoloration can often be treated effectively if the vitiligo is diagnosed early. The proper treatment option or combination of treatments depends upon the magnitude and severity of your condition.

Treatment options that may help reduce the appearance of skin discoloration include:

• Light therapy
• Oral medications such as trimethylpsoralen (Trisoralen), which may
have a repigmenting affect on the skin
• Topical medications, including corticosteroids, immunosuppressants,
and repigmenting agents

Vitiligo may also be treated by removing skin from normal areas and grafting it onto affected areas. If the above treatments are ineffective, the skin can also be masked with cosmetic tattooing.