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What is Vitiligo?

  • What is vitiligo?

    Vitiligo is quite a common condition which makes the skin, and sometimes the hair, turn white in patches. This is because melanocytes, the cells which give the skin its colour, have been damaged.

    The way the condition develops varies from one person to another. It can spread to cover the whole body, but this does not necessarily happen. The most common form of vitiligo affects both sides of the body, but it can affect one side only.

  • Is vitiligo contagious?

    No. If you have vitiligo, you cannot pass it on to someone else by touching them and it is not infectious. Vitiligo is considered to be an €˜autoimmune condition in which the immune system attacks the body's own tissues.

  • Is there more than one type of vitiligo?

    Yes. The most common type is Generalised Vitiligo (also known as Bilateral or Symmetrical Vitiligo). The white skin patches on one side of the body are mirrored by similar patches on the other side. Typically vitiligo affects particular areas of skin such as the hands and feet, around the eyes, mouth and ears or in a more generalised pattern.

     

    With Segmental Vitiligo (also known as Unilateral Vitiligo) the patches develop on only one side of the body, or they are asymmetrical.

     

    Universal Vitiligo occurs (in relatively few cases) when the vitiligo skin is so extensive that little remains of the original skin colour.

    Available treatments are essentially the same whether you have the generalised or segmental type. However treatments may vary, depending on where the patches and the extent of them.

  • Can vitiligo affect anyone at any stage in their life?

    Yes. About 50% of people develop the condition before the age of twenty but vitiligo can begin at any age.

    The causes are not completely understood yet, but it seems that people who develop vitiligo have a genetic disposition to do so. People with a particular combination of genes are more likely than others to develop vitiligo, but it is not only due to heredity. It is likely that environmental factors are also involved. The development of vitiligo may be triggered by such factors as:

    • Hormonal changes in the body, for example during adolescence.
    • Damage to the skin, for example from a cut or sunburn.
    • Extreme stress.
    • Contact with certain chemicals.
  • Are people with darker skins more likely to get vitiligo?

    No. Vitiligo may be more noticeable in people with darker skin types, but anyone can develop vitiligo, whatever their skin colour or ethnic origin. It affects at least one person in every hundred throughout the world, including in the UK.

  • I wasn’t born with vitiligo. If it’s not infectious, why has it appeared?

    Most people are not born with vitiligo, but about 50% develop the condition before the age of twenty.

    The causes are not completely understood yet, but they seem to be a mixture of genetic and environmental factors. People with a particular combination of genes are more likely than others to develop vitiligo, but it is not only due to heredity. The development of vitiligo may be triggered by such factors as:

    • Hormonal changes in the body, for example during adolescence.
    • Damage to the skin, for example from a cut or sunburn.
    • Extreme stress.
    • Contact with certain chemicals.
  • What does autoimmune mean?

    Autoimmune diseases develop from an overactive immune response against substances and tissues normally found in the body. Therefore the body starts to attack its own cells. The tendency for this over-reaction seems to run in families.