Skin Help – Vitiligo

What is it?
An acquired chronic condition which is caused by the depigmentation of sections of skin. In vitiligo the skin cells ‘melanocytes’ which are responsible for skin pigmentation either die or are unable to function which leads to very pale distinct patches. Its course of pattern features long periods of inactivity interspersed with shorter periods when areas of depigmentation extends. Hence the course of this disease is unpredictable.

Two main patterns of vitiligo are recognized with one being a common generalised vitiligo and the other a rare segmental type. Segmental vitiligo is restricted to one part of the body and it has an earlier onset than generalized vitiligo. It tends not to be associated with auto immune disease.

Generalised vitiligo usually starts at 20 years of age or above. There is a family history in 80% of patients.

Clinical course/symptoms
Most common areas affected are face, neck and hands due to exposure to sun. Patches can start small and grow big, they may join up to form larger patches or may remain small in size. These patches are permanent. The pale patches are not particularly itchy but as they are devoid of melanin are vulnerable to sun burn.

Diagnosis
Easily deduced due to the specific appearance of the disease.

Treatment
Focus is on management of this disease. Many patients require advice and support on use of sun creams and cosmetic camouflage.

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