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What is Vitiligo?
Vitiligo is the skin condition that Michael Jackson was said to be suffering from. It is a disease that affects the skin’s pigmentation and results in loss of the normal skin color. It affects people of all races and approximately one third of patients with vitiligo have family members with the same condition.
What Causes Vitiligo?
Though the specific causes of vitiligo are unknown, it is thought to be caused by an autoimmune process in which the body’s own cells attack and destroy the melanocytes which produce the skin’s pigment.
How is Vitiligo Classified?
Vitiligo can be classified as localized, generalized or universal. Localized vitiligo affects one area of the body such as one side of the face or one arm or leg.
Generalized vitiligo, the most common type, affects both sides of the body resulting in widely distributed pale patches of skin.
Universal vitiligo results in complete or almost complete loss of the normal skin color.
What are the Symptoms of Vitiligo?
Vitiligo symptoms include patches of skin which have lost their normal skin color and become lighter than the surrounding areas. Despite the color changes, these white spots on the skin are usually not itchy or scaly. Sun exposed areas such as the face, hands and feet are usually the first ones to begin loosing their normal color. Other commonly affected areas include the mouth, armpits and genital organs though vitiligo can affect skin on any part of the body.
Other vitiligo symptoms that may develop include premature graying of the scalp hair, eyebrows and beard. The areas affected by vitiligo may also be noted to have increased sweating.
Though it is physically limited to the skin, vitiligo also causes effects which are more than just skin deep. These psychological effects which include emotional stress, social anxiety, low self esteem and depression, are more likely to develop in adolescents with vitiliginous patches on their faces, hands and genital organs.
How is a Diagnosis of Vitiligo Made?
The diagnosis of vitiligo is made after the healthcare provider listens to your symptoms and examines the white skin patches.
A Wood’s lamp, which provides ultraviolet light, can be used to differentiate the depigmented areas from other skin diseases with white spots such as the fungal infection Tinea versicolor, since it accentuates the ivory white patches of vitiligo.
A skin biopsy confirms the diagnosis of vitiligo by verifying the absence of melanocytes or the melanin producing cells in the affected areas. A skin biopsy also helps exclude other diseases with white spots on the skin such leprosy, idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis, nevus depigmentosus and chemical leukoderma.
To learn more read Vitiligo by Dr Miriam Kinai
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