There are many different vitiligo types.
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
. Typically, this type of vitiligo starts appearing on fingertips, hands, wrists, on the feet or around the mouth and eyes. A person who has this type of vitiligo often experiences rapid pigment loss at the beginning, then a complete stop to the depigmentation for some time. Later on, the loss of pigment restarts, and this often becomes a lifetime cycle for the patient.
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.
Who may be affected by vitiligo?
Have questions about vitiligo? Then read our vitiligo FAQ!
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about vitiligo:
- What is Vitiligo? Vitiligo is a skin condition that occurs when melanocytes, the cells that produce the pigment melanin that gives the skin its natural color, die out or are enable to function.
- What are the symptoms of vitiligo?Vitiligo is marked by the appearance of white patches on their skin, a result of depigmentation. Although these white patches may appear on any part of the body, they are more commonly found on areas of the body that are frequently exposed to the sun such as the face, hands, arms, lips and feet. They may also appear on the armpits, groin and genitals.
- What causes vitiligo?
To date, the cause of vitiligo has not yet been definitively established, but scientific research theorizes that a combination of immunologic, environmental and hereditary factors trigger the development of the disorder.
- How many vitiligo sufferers are there in the world?
Vitiligo affects 0.5 to 1 percent of the global population, which is roughly 65 million people.
People of any age, gender or race may develop vitiligo, although the initial symptoms tend to appear between the ages of ten and thirty. The white patches are also more apparent in patients who have darker complexion.
Unlike many skin disorders, vitiligo is not an infectious skin condition.
- Do the white patches of vitiligo spread?
The spread of vitiligo may vary from patient to patient. Some vitiligo sufferers experience a slow spread of the white patches or no spreading at all, while for others, the white patches spread rather rapidly.
- How does vitiligo affect the lives of those who have it?
Although vitiligo patients feel no itching or any kind of physical discomfort, the white patches present a cosmetic issue which may have an adverse impact on their quality of life. It is common for vitiligo patients, particularly those with white patches on the face which can be unsightly, to feel depressed, have low self-esteem and in certain cases, experience rejection. A number of vitiligo patients have also complained about how the condition has taken a toll on their personal relationships as well as their sex lives.
Unfortunately, there is no permanent cure for vitiligo just yet. However, there are several treatment options available which either slow down the spread or progress of the condition or conceal those white patches.
- What are the most common treatments for vitiligo?
Among the most common vitiligo treatments are:
Phototherapy-the exposure of skin to ultraviolet light. This can be done at home or in a clinic using a domestic UV lamp.
Topical Corticosteroid therapy-Corticosteroid creams or ointments are applied to the skin with the aim of triggering repigmentation of the affected area, a process which could take as long as three months.
Depigmentation-An option usually resorted to by patients with white patches that cover more than half of their entire skin, depigmentation therapy is designed to lighten the parts of the skin which remain unaffected by vitiligo in order to match the already depigmented areas. This involves the use of monobenzone ether of hydroquinone twice a day.
Skin grafting–a surgical procedure that involves the transplantation of normally-pigmented skin on the white patches.
Makeup– There are several cosmetic camouflage solutions that effectively mask vitiligo patches and make one’s complexion look more even.
- Are there natural ways to treat vitiligo?
There are actually many natural options for people who want to manage their vitiligo in a less expensive and ultimately safer way. A few lifestyles changes, particularly when it comes to diet, are recommended. Consume more green leafy vegetables, fruits, nuts and whole grains as they are rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Carrots, celery and parsnips are also recommended since they contain psoralen, a compound that helps increase the sensitivity of the skin to ultraviolet light and promote tanning. To further aid in the healthy tanning of depigmented skin, there are supplements available for that, particularly those that contain significant doses of vitamin B12 and selenium.
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