Vitiligo is a long term skin condition characterized by patches of the skin losing their pigment. The patches of skin affected become white and usually have sharp margins. The hair from the skin may also become white. Inside the mouth and nose may also be involved. Typically both sides of the body are affected. Often the patches begin on areas of skin that are exposed to the sun. It is more noticeable in people with dark skin. Vitiligo may result in psychological stress and those affected may be stigmatized.
The cause is typically unknown. It is believed to be due to genetic susceptibility that is triggered by an environmental factor such that an autoimmune disease occurs. This results in the destruction of skin pigment cells. Risk factors include a family history of the condition or other autoimmune diseases, such as hyperthyroidism (the condition that occurs due to excessive production of thyroid hormone by the thyroid gland), alopecia areata (a condition in which hair is lost from some or all areas of the body), and pernicious anemia (a disease in which not enough red blood cells are present due to a lack of vitamin B12). It is not contagious.
Vitiligo is classified into two main types: segmental and non-segmental. Most cases are non-segmental, meaning they affect both sides; and these cases typically get worse with time. About 10% of cases are segmental, meaning they mostly involve one side of the body; and these cases do not typically worsen with time. Diagnosis can be confirmed by tissue biopsy.
There is no known cure for vitiligo. For those with light skin, sunscreen and makeup are all that is typically recommended. Other treatment options may include steroid creams or phototherapy to darken the light patches. Alternatively, efforts to lighten the unaffected skin, such as with hydroquinone, may be tried. A number of surgical options are available for those who do not improve with other measures. A combination of treatments generally has better outcomes. Counselling to provide emotional support may be useful.
Globally about 1% of people are affected by vitiligo. Some populations have rates as high as 2–3%. Males and females are equally affected. About half show the disorder before age 20 and most develop it before age 40.
No skin pigmentation may be associated with several diseases including:
Hypopituitarism is the decreased (hypo) secretion of one or more of the eight hormones normally produced by the pituitary gland at the base of the brain. Pituitary failure results in many changes in the skin, hair and nails as a result of the absence of pituitary hormone action on these sites.