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