Vitiligo Disease

All skin has a compound known as melanin which is responsible for the natural and even coloring of the skin surface. Every human being is born with a certain type of skin color whose main function is to protect him or her from the harmful rays of the sun at that climate. There are the lighter skin colors found in the temperate regions of the world. The people with lighter skin tones are Caucasian, Asian or Hispanic. The tropical areas are hotter and produce darker skin coloring. The people with darker skin coloring are found in some parts of Asia and Africa.

Vitiligo is a skin disorder that affects some areas of the skin. These areas of normal skin appear to gradually turn lighter in color compared to the surrounding skin. They form irregular shaped patches in different areas of the body. However, the skin surface of the lighter skin patches does not change on touching because it feels the same as the surrounding skin. Vitiligo disease is said to occur when the cells of the body’s autoimmune system destroy the cells that produce the skins’ pigment coloring (melanocytes). This problem is felt to generate from the body’s autoimmune system, although the cause is not completely known.

Vitiligo can make its presence at any age, that is, all can be affected whether young or old. Vitiligo has no exceptions. Its spread is all over the world and in all skin types, be they Caucasian, Asian, African, Hispanic or any other skin colors. In the darker skin colors like African, Vitiligo can be clearly seen as it presents in lighter skin patches. In the lighter skin colors like Caucasian, the skin can turn very pink where the blood vessels can be clearly seen through the skin. In the USA alone Vitiligo affects 1 out of every 100 persons.

Vitiligo disease is associated with other diseases of the autoimmune system like;

  • Hyperthyroidism – where the thyroid gland produces too much of the thyroid hormone. Sometimes it can be also referred to as an over active thyroid.
  • Addison’s disease"– where the adrenal glands do not produce enough of their hormones.
  • Pernicious anemia – where there is a decrease in the body’s red blood cell count because the body cannot absorb vitamin B12 from the intestinal tract. Vitamin B12 in vital in the formation of red blood cells.

How can you know if you have Vitiligo? Well … when you notice your skin with different coloring in places where it was not seen previously or due to an injury, that is a good time to find out why. Immediately get an appointment with your doctor.  Doctors usually use an instrument called a Wood light. This hand held ultra violet light makes the patches of the skin with lesser pigmentationto appear bright white in color.

Still in doubt? Again the doctor can go further and do a skin biopsy so as to ascertain the true cause for the loss of pigment. The thyroid gland can also be checked for its levels of the thyroid hormone or any other hormones present. Finally the doctor can also check the levels of vitamin B12 in the body. This vitamin B12 deficiency test is very useful if you have a history of anemia. Vitiligo can also be induced by certain types of medication. It is prudent to be aware of this fact.

When Vitiligo has started, its progression is unpredictable and varies from person to person. The areas that have lost skin may either remain the same or get worse with time. The light skin patches start small in size but gradually they become larger in size and often change shape as they expand. Also skin areas with lesser pigment may be susceptible to sunburn. Some kinds of skin cancers may also affect areas with lesser pigment.

The darker skin around the eyes is this person’s normal skin color. The lighter skin patches with jagged edges is the presence of the Vitiligo on the face. Notice that it is significantly lighter in color. This is a lighter skin individual who may be Caucasian, Asian or Hispanic.

Other areas affected by Vitiligo are the hands, legs and genitals. In the caption below you can clearly distinguish Vitiligo in this darker skin individual. The Vitiligo is the very light skin patches mainly seen at the edges of the fingers. This person’s natural skin is the darker color on the hand surface. This is probably an African skin type.

Vitiligo presents in 2 major types as follows;

  • Non- segmental Vitiligo (NSV) – where the lighter patches seem to appear in symmetry at a particular body location. Newer patches can appear over bigger portions of the body or remain in the same area. If this continues and very little patches of the original normal skin is left, then this is called "Vitiligo universalis This type of Vitiligo can come at any age, that is, it can affect both the young and the old alike. NSV can further be segmented into specific classes as shown below;
    • Generalized Vitiligo – the most common which is wide and randomly distributed.
    • Universal Vitiligo – as described above, it covers over 60% of the body.
    • Focal Vitiligo – it covers only one area of the body. This is common with children.
    • Acrofacial Vitiligo – it covers the fingers and facial cavity.
    • Mucosal Vitiligo – it covers the inner mucous membranes of the body.
  • Segmental Vitiligo– this looks completely different from NSV. It affects areas of the skin in the spinal column and without treatment spreads much more rapidly than NSV. It is not associated with the body’s autoimmune system and shows more stability that NSV. It is much more treatable than NSV and it responds much better to treatment. Teenagers are most susceptible to this form of Vitiligo.

It is very sad that Vitiligo sufferers are often ostracized and many succumb to depression and mood swings.

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