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Vitiligo: Types, Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Vitiligo is a long-term skin condition that causes loss of skin color in patches. The pale white patches are caused due to a lack of melanin, the natural skin pigment. The color of skin, hair, and eyes are all dependent on the amount and type of melanin present in the body. The condition is neither life-threatening nor contagious. In this article, we will discuss details about vitiligo, including causes, types of symptoms, etc.

What is the difference between vitiligo and leukoderma?

Some people think that these two conditions are different. The truth is that there is no difference between vitiligo and leukoderma. Both names refer to the same skin condition. leuko or leuco means white and derma refers to skin.

Symptoms of Vitiligo

Vitiligo is a condition that is signified solely by loss of skin color. Face, inside of mouth, fingers, wrists, armpits, groin, and, genitals are the most commonly affected areas. It may sometimes develop on the scalp and in such conditions lack of melanin can turn the hair grey or white.

Vitiligo often starts as a pale patch on the skin which then slowly turns white. If there are blood vessels under the skin the patch may look slightly pink rather than white. The discolored patches of skin generally get bigger with time. Normally, vitiligo does not cause any discomfort to the skin but it may be itchy occasionally.

Types of Vitiligo

Vitiligo is classified based on the area it covers on a body. Some people have symmetrical patterns of patches, some have non-symmetrical patches affecting one area of the body. And, there are few whose entire body is covered with patches. Vitiligo is classified based on these categories only.

1. Non-Segmental Vitiligo

Non-Segmental Vitiligo is the most common type of vitiligo. 9 out of 10 people affected with vitiligo have non-segmental vitiligo. In non-segmental vitiligo, also known as vitiligo vulgaris, bilateral or generalized vitiligo, the patches appear on both sides of the body in symmetrical patterns.

2. Segmental Vitiligo

Segmental Vitiligo, also known as unilateral or localized vitiligo, is the second common type of vitiligo. It affects one area of the body and the patches are not symmetrical. Segmental vitiligo is seen more in children.

3. Universal Vitiligo

Universal Vitiligo, also known as complete vitiligo, affects the whole body. This is the rare most type of vitiligo and a very few people are affected with universal or complete vitiligo.

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Causes of Vitiligo

Vitiligo, as discussed earlier, is caused due to lack of melanin, a pigment that gives color to our skin. Melanin is produced in the body by skin cells called melanocytes. When these melanocytes fail to produce enough melanin the skin losses its color. However, scientists have not yet succeeded to know the exact reason for the disappearance of melanocytes from the affected region.

Interestingly, different reasons for lack of melanin are associated with different reasons in a different types of Vitiligo.

Non-Segmental Vitiligo is considered to be an autoimmune condition. This means the immune system of the body, instead of attacking foreign materials, starts attacking melanocyte skin cells that produce melanin. This in turn makes the skin pale.

Segmental Vitiligo is believed to be caused by neurochemicals i.e. chemicals released from nerve endings in the skin. These chemicals prove fatal for the melanocytes.

Complications related to Vitiligo

Vitiligo is simply a loss of skin color from a particular area. The patches caused due to vitiligo normally do not cause any major pain or discomfort to the skin. But, it is associated with some complications. The most prominent complication is sunburn. The absence of melanin makes the skin more vulnerable to UV rays. So, a person with vitiligo needs to use strong sunscreen to avoid the pains of sunburn.

In many cases, vitiligo is responsible for causing eye problems such as inflammation of the iris and uveitis (middle layer of the eye). It may also trigger partial hearing loss.

Vitiligo is seen to affect a person’s confidence and self-esteem. It is mostly seen in people who have pale patches in the frequently visible areas such as the face.

Treatment of Vitiligo

Vitiligo is a permanent condition that usually increases its area of dominance. There’s no cure for vitiligo. Though there are some options of treatment available for restoring the skin color they cannot stop the continued loss of color or recurrence of patches.

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