Thursday, April 9, 2009


Vitiligo is a disorder that causes the depletion of melanocytes in regions of a person's skin. Melanocytes are the cells responsible for the skin's pigmentation. So, when the melanocytes die or stop functioning, the color in the affected region disappears leaving the skin a whitish shade. People suffering from vitiligo have distinctive patches of white skin surrounded by skin of their natural tone. The disease affects between 1-2% of people worldwide.

No direct cause for Vitiligo has been isolated, though most scientists feel that it is a mix of autoimmune, genetic and environmental factors that triggers the disorder. Most people begin to develop symptoms in young adulthood. The disease typically begins with a few patches of discoloration and then spreads to form additional patches accross the body. The parts of the body most commonly affected are the extremities, face, neck and skin folds. Patches of vitiligo are often symmetrical, appearing evenly on both sides of the body. Affected areas may grow or shrink or become mottled as melanocytes heal or recolonize the pigment-deprived regions.

Stress may be a triggering factor for Vitiligo, since it can send the immune system into overdrive. Since scalp vitiligo can affect hair pigmentation, this lends credence to the commonly held mythos of fear turning hair white.

Vitiligo is not life threatening. However, it can be embarassing for those who suffer from it. In limited cases, make-up can be used to cover the white patches. In addition, exposure to UV light and certain drugs can help the melanocytes to heal or recolonize. In extreme cases, some patients opt to undergo a depigmentation process which removes the melanocytes from their unaffected skin causing their skin to be an even white tone. Michael Jackson attributes his lightened skin tone to Vitiligo.

Since this sick is not life threatening but does cause some disfiguring symptoms I rate it a
1 on my "lethality scale." (1-10)
and a 2 on my "disturbing scale." (1-10)

1 comment:

  1. There is often significant emotional distress for those with Vitiligo, perhaps going back to it's confusion with leprosy, and maybe even a biological aversion response because of that. click here