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Vitiligo - What Causes It and How Can It Be Treated?

Written and reviewed by
MD - Dermatology, MBBS, DNB (Dermatology)
Dermatologist, Pune  •  10 years experience
Vitiligo - What Causes It and How Can It Be Treated?

Vitiligo is a skin condition that causes loss of pigmentation of the skin. Melanocytes, the pigment cells, within the skin are destroyed. This causes these parts of the skin to lose color and turn pale. It might affect different parts of the body including the arms, legs, face and even genitalia. It can affect a person of any age, ethnicity or gender.

Causes
The exact cause of vitiligo is not definitively known. However, there are a number of risk factors that might contribute towards the condition. These include-

  1. Autoimmune disorders- Vitiligo might be a result of an autoimmune disorder where the overactive immune system destroys the pigment cells of the skin.
  2. Exposure to Chemicals- Exposure to certain chemicals can increase the risk of vitiligo by causing depigmentation.
  3. Hereditary factors- There might be a genetic pre-disposition towards vitiligo. Though a person can exhibit symptoms of the condition at any age, it is most commonly found to manifest itself around the age of 20 years.

Symptoms
Vitiligo may start with a simple spot of pale skin but over time, this spot expands and turns paler until it is white in color. Irregular in shape, the edges of these spots may inflame and cause itchiness.

Treatment
The treatment of vitiligo will be determined by a number of factors such as the number and the extent of the white patches and where they are located. Vitiligo treatment includes cosmetic, medical and surgical methods.

  1. Cosmetic Treatment- Cosmetic and skincare products such as sunscreens, dye or makeup can help relieve and hide signs of the condition.
  2. Medical Treatment- Oral medication or medicated ointments may be prescribed to treat Vitiligo. Photochemotherapy which involves the use of PUVA rays to induce re-pigmentation may also be prescribed. If the condition has spread to a considerable extent then the physician might advise that the color from the remaining areas of the skin also be removed in order to match the affected areas.
  3. Surgical Treatment- Surgical treatments are at times prescribed which involve skin grafting or tattooing. This is usually prescribed for those with small patches of affected areas.

With ongoing and extensive research being conducted on this skin condition, we will in the near future be able to both understand and treat it better.

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