Vitiligo is a disorder that affects the skin. Those who suffer from vitiligo experience a loss of pigmentation in the skin when melanin-producing cells either die or experience dysfunction. When vitiligo causes a lack of melanin in certain areas of the skin, the affected areas lose color and often appear as white patches. These patches can occur anywhere throughout the body, although areas exposed to the sun are most commonly affected. This includes areas like the arms, face, legs, and neck.
The disease is neither contagious nor life-threatening, but sufferers often experience a sense of embarrassment and lowered self-esteem when the patches occur in visible areas of the body. Unfortunately, there is no cure for vitiligo; however, there are treatment options available that can slow the process of pigmentation loss. Many sufferers also use a number of products to camouflage their pigmentation loss in highly visible areas, which can help them to increase confidence in social situations. Since there is no cure, many people who are diagnosed with vitiligo before having children are likewise curious to know if they will pass the disorder on to their offspring.
On a global scale, it is estimated that vitiligo affects anywhere from 0.5 to 2 percent of the population. While medical experts do not know the exact cause of vitiligo, there is speculation that the loss of pigmentation associated with the disease is related to a virus or an autoimmune disorder. Vitiligo appears to affect people of all ages, genders, and races, and often times, it appears to run in families. Of those diagnosed with vitiligo, 30 percent report having a family member who also sufferers from the disease. Genetics are believed to play, at the very least, a minor role in the development of vitiligo.
Despite this correlation, most people dealing with vitiligo (around 70 percent) have no family history of the skin disorder. More complex factors, such as environmental circumstances and the presence of other autoimmune disorders, are likely to play a bigger role in whether or not a person will experience vitiligo symptoms.
Since a number of autoimmune disorders are in fact hereditary, it is likely the connection of vitiligo occurring in families is largely due to the existence of these disorders, rather than to a specific gene for vitiligo. Even if an autoimmune disorder is present, and even if a family history of vitiligo exists, there is no guarantee that the vitiligo symptoms will appear in any given family member. In fact, in studies with identical twins, it is not uncommon for one twin to develop vitiligo and the other to remain unaffected, despite having an identical genetic composition.
Essentially, those who have vitiligo are unlikely to pass one specific gene on to their children that will cause vitiligo to develop. While they may pass on a series of genes that makes their offspring more susceptible to autoimmune disorders, they should not assume that vitiligo will develop as a result. Other factors typically must fall into place for the disorder to occur. A number of environmental factors, along with triggers like sunburns, stress, or chemical exposure, are generally noted before vitiligo symptoms arise.
If you are struggling to manage your vitiligo or are unsure about vitiligo treatment options, contact the experts at the California Dermatology and Clinical Research Institute today. Give us a call at (760) 203-3839.