Vitiligo is a condition in which parts of the skin become lighter in color, a phenomenon known as depigmentation. The discolored areas might come in small patches, or they might encompass a large portion of the body. This disorder isn't contagious, but it can be hereditary. Unfortunately, it usually lasts a lifetime.
Vitiligo arises when the body's melanocytes stop working or die off. Melanocytes make melanin, the substance responsible for the coloring of skin and hair.
Medical researchers have yet to identify specific vitiligo causes. It could be the case that vitiligo is an autoimmune disorder, which means that the immune system attacks the melanocytes as though they were harmful foreign invaders. The reason that the immune system would do so remains murky, however.
In any event, let's take a closer look at typical vitiligo symptoms and some of the consequences they can have.
Vitiligo Alters Skin, Hair and More
In addition to discoloring the skin, vitiligo can turn portions of a person's hair gray or white. It can affect facial hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes, not just the hair on top of the head.
Vitiligo can change the color of the mouth's interior and that of the eyes. In particular, it impacts the retina's hue. The retina is the eyeball's innermost and thickest tissue layer.
A small percentage of vitiligo patients report that their discolored areas hurt or are itchy. For the most part, though, depigmentation is the only direct result of vitiligo. The disorder doesn't seem to have any other adverse effects on the body.
Two Types of Vitiligo
There are two main kinds of vitiligo. The first is segmental vitiligo, and it's the milder form. On one part of the body, perhaps an arm or a leg, a discolored patch appears. It tends to grow for about a year, and then it never gets any worse. Some segmental vitiligo patients find that their hair lightens as well.
The more intense and more common type of this condition is non-segmental vitiligo. It usually begins on two corresponding body parts: the hands, for instance. From there, it can spread relatively quickly. Finally, the disorder enters a pattern whereby the discolored sections expand for a while, then stop, and then start to grow again. This sequence often continues for the rest of a patient's life.
The Emotional Effects
The patches of discoloration that vitiligo creates, which are especially conspicuous on those who have darker skin, can make people feel embarrassed about how they look. It can even cause them to isolate themselves socially. Due to that shame and separation from others, they can become clinically depressed over time.
Depression, of course, can take a serious toll on the body. It can increase a person's risk of heart disease, lead to insomnia, and cause the immune system to function less effectively, among other repercussions.
Vitiligo Treatment in San Diego at CDCRI
Fortunately, innovative forms of vitiligo treatment are now being developed, particularly when it comes to janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors. JAK inhibitors are medications that may keep the immune system from attacking the melanocytes. The medical experts at the California Dermatology and Clinical Research Institute (CDCRI) in San Diego are at the forefront of these therapies. If you'd like to receive such treatments, please get in touch with the CDCRI as soon as you can. Give us a call at (760) 203-3839.