What are the causes and symptoms of vitiligo?Skin, Hair & Nails
Vitiligo is an acquired skin depigmentation which occurs in approximately 1% of the population worldwide. It can occur at any age, and most commonly appears as white patches on the skin.
While the mechanism for vitiligo is understood to arise as a result of an autoimmune process that targets the pigment producing cells of the body, the exact triggers of this process are not as well understood. Some patients have had links to the following:
Autoimmune diseases: Such as autoimmune thyroid disease and lupus.
Genetic factors: 20 - 30% of patients have a positive family history.
Stress: Some patients report a flare of their condition during stressful periods (e.g exams)
Trauma: New patches found occurring in areas of previous trauma.
Chemical exposure: Exposure to certain industrial chemicals.
Often there may be no identifiable underlying cause for the condition.
Vitiligo manifests as a progressive loss of pigment and can occur on any part of the body, including the scalp as well as the overlying hair. It is uncommon to experience an associated itch or pain during this process. The course is unpredictable and in some cases, the condition can stabilise for a few years before progressing and getting worse.
Treatment options are heavily dependent on the extent and location of the white patches. There is a general rule of thumb is that the earlier treatment is started, the better the outcomes.
Hope you found the answer helpful.
Dr Christopher Lim
Hi, thanks for the question.
Normally, the color of hair and skin is determined by melanin. Vitiligo occurs when the cells that produce melanin die or stop functioning. Vitiligo affects people of all skin types, but it may be more noticeable in people with darker skin. The condition is not life-threatening or contagious. There are treatments for vitiligo that may restore color to the affected skin. But it does not prevent continued loss of skin color or a recurrence.
The main sign of vitiligo is patchy loss of skin color. Usually, the discoloration first shows on sun-exposed areas, such as the hands, feet, arms, face and lips.
Vitiligo signs may include:
- Patchy loss of skin color
- Premature whitening or graying of the hair on your scalp, eyelashes, eyebrows or beard
- Loss of color in the tissues that line the inside of your mouth and nose (mucous membranes)
- Loss of or change in color of the inner layer of the eyeball (retina)
Depending on the type of vitiligo you have, the discolored patches may cover:
- Many parts of your body. The discolored patches often progress similarly on corresponding body parts.
- Only one side or part of your body. This type, called segmental vitiligo, tends to occur at a younger age, progress for a year or two, then stop.
- One or only a few areas of your body. This type is called localized vitiligo.
It's difficult to predict how your disease will progress. Sometimes the patches stop forming without treatment. In most cases, pigment loss spreads and eventually involves most of your skin. Rarely, the skin gets its color back.
I hope this information helps your to understand vitiligo better.
Doctor Vivian Yong