Vitiligo is a chronic skin condition that affects millions of people the world over. The white patches on the skin that characterize the condition are due to the loss of pigment in that particular area. While the white spots can appear on any part of the body, they are more likely to develop on skin that is more commonly exposed to the sun’s rays such as the face, hands and feet.
Several theories about what causes vitiligo have already been put forth, including the idea that it’s an autoimmune disease, a hereditary condition, or caused by extreme trauma, nutritional deficiencies or too much stress. As of today, no permanent cure for the condition has been discovered, although modern science has developed several treatments that help patients manage their condition.
The severity and the course of the skin disorder may vary from patient to patient. Typically, the white patches begin appearing in a small area. As time goes by, other patches pop up. Some even see their existing patches grow larger or multiply. There are also patients whose vitiligo stays the same for a long time, while other patients experience a rapid spread of the white patches all over their body.
Different types and subtypes of vitiligo
At present, doctors recognize two main types, which are segmental and non-segmental vitiligo.
Segmental vitiligo, which is also known as unilateral vitiligo, is marked by the appearance of white patches on only one segment of the body such as an arm, a leg, or the face. This type of vitiligo often starts at an early age, develops for about a year and then stops completely. Approximately 50 percent of segmental vitiligo patients also experience some hair color loss.
Non-segmental vitiligo, on the other hand, is more common. Also referred to as bilateral vitiligo, vitiligo vulgaris and generalized vitiligo, non-segmental vitiligo is characterized by the appearance of white spots on both sides of the body
There are also several vitiligo sub-types such as acrofacial vitiligo, which is essentially depigmentation of the face, head, hands, feet or any part away from the center of the body. There is also focal vitiligo, which is characterized by the loss of color in a confined area. At the other extreme is universal vitiligo, which is basically complete or near-complete pigment loss of the entire body. It is sometimes recommended for patients who have this type of vitiligo to undergo depigmentation treatment instead so that the remaining areas of their skin that still have color will match the color of the rest of their skin.