Vitiligo is a condition in which people lose melanin – the pigment that gives skin its color – resulting in white patches of skin. While the exact cause of vitiligo is unknown, it has been confirmed that an autoimmune component plays a strong rolle in the disease. The chronic nature of the condition, long term treatment, lack of uniform effective therapy and unpredictable cause of the condition has a significant impact upon the quality of life for individuals living with vitiligo.
Vitiligo can begin at any age, but in half of all affected patients, its onset is noted before the age of twenty. In more than half, there is a family history of vitiligo or early greying of hair. In most cases, periods of rapidly extending hypo-pigmentation occur. After several months, the number and size of the light areas become stable and may remain so for several years; other episodes of pigment loss may occur later on, however often following stress or trauma, and the hypopigmentation may spread.
Most patients with vitiligo are in good general health. Although 1 – 2% of the general population has vitiligo, the incidence is 8 – 20% in people with adrenocortical insufficiency, hyperthyroidism, alopecia areata, pernicious anemia, melanoma, scleroderma, morphea, and certain types of uveitis. Three different hypotheses have been advanced to explain the cause of vitiligo: autoimmunity, neurochemical factors, and self-destruction of melanocytes. Research on the cause is continuing.