Vitiligo, pronounced "vit-il-eye-go" is a depigmentation of the skin. Due to a loss of pigment, more specifically melanin, the skin appears white and blotchy. In areas of the body that are affected, the hair may also turn white. While Caucasians do suffer from vitiligo, it is more noticeable on people with darker skin tones. Interestingly, all people have about the same number of Melanocytes (cells that produce melanin). The difference lies in how much melanin is stored, as people with darker skins store more of the pigment.
Vitiligo is characterized by the white, blotchy areas on the skin, more commonly found on the face, lips, hand, feet and arms. Sometimes, it is present in the armpits, groin, nostrils, navel, genitals, and rectum. It actually looks like the skin has peeled off but in fact, it has lost its color. Eyelashes, the hair on one's head, eyebrows, beards and mustaches will most likely turn gray prematurely. The condition is not contagious and is considered hereditary, as the gene is said to have some form of susceptibility. It is an auto immune condition where the person's immune system may reject their own Melanocytes (pigment cells).
While vitiligo is not life-threatening nor does it produce any potential medical issues, the condition is serious enough that many people are caused severe emotional trauma. Fitting-in socially is difficult for some individuals, as they are embarrassed to let others see their skin. This prevents them from joining sports teams and other activities that require certain types of clothing. And others can be cruel. Certain cultures actually ostracize the afflicted.
To diagnose vitiligo, a doctor usually inquires about the person's medical history in terms of other members of the family who may also suffer. In addition, the doctor will be particularly interested in any recent outbreaks of rash, a sunburn or sensitivity to sun, and any conditions surrounding the skin which may have preceded the loss of pigmentation.
Vitiligo research was essential in order to determine how the condition starts in an individual and who is prone to the condition. Further, because of the emotional and psychological problems that patients encounter, it was important to find successful treatment options. It is estimated that one to two percent of the world's population, somewhere between fifty million and one hundred million people, have the condition. So the situation is serious enough that vitiligo research is required.
Through vitiligo research several treatments are available. While vitiligo cannot be cured, it can be treated. The main focus is improving appearance. Here are a few examples of ways in which this is accomplished:
Other vitiligo research has shown that the use of sunscreen helps to lessen the degree of the condition. Pregnant women should also take note when choosing a particular method of treatment, as harm can be done to the placenta. Lastly, it is important for patients to seek a support system if the condition affects everyday living in a negative way.
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