White Skin Patches- Vitiligo

Vitiligo is a pigmentation disorder of the skin where the melanocytes (the cells that make melanin) are either absent or are not able to manufacture melanin. When the pigment is not formed, the individual develops white patches on the body.

The patches may occur anywhere on the skin including the mouth, nose, eyes and even the genitalia. The hair which grows in these areas also turns white. The cosmetic defect is very obvious.

The condition is not rare and affects 1-2 individuals in every 100 people. The majority of individuals develop vitiligo in the 1st and 2nd decade of life. The disorder affects both genders and all races equally. The disorder is much more obvious in dark skinned people.

Vitiligo occurs on both sides of the body are affected.

Common areas which are affected by vitiligo include:

- face

- lips

- hands

- arms

- legs

- genitals

The degree of pigment loss is variable and so is the shade of color. In most cases, the skin discoloration occurs in large patches which are circular or oval in shape.

Vitiligo occurs in cycles. The disorder may start abruptly and the stop. What triggers these episodes is not fully understood. With time, the discolored skin does not revert back to the original skin color and the white patches become permanent.

Despite the obvious cosmetic deformity, the majority of individuals are in good health.

Vitiligo is believed to be an auto immune disorder (where the body's own defensive cells attack the skin pigment cells). In some cases, it is believed that a stressing event triggers vitiligo.

Vitiligo appears to be more common in individuals who already have an auto immune disorder like hyperthyroidism, adrenocortical insufficiency or pernicious anemia. However, there are also a significant number of other individuals with vitiligo who have no auto immune disorders.

Vitiligo does have a genetic inheritance in some individuals. Some children of parents who are affected are more likely to develop vitiligo.

Todate there is no way of predicting which child may develop vitiligo.

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