Vitiligo (vitilaigo) is a chronic skin disorder which can be described as depigmented patches on skin. It results from the death and or malfunction of melanocytes, the cells responsible for giving color to the skin by producing the pigment melanin. The actual cause of vitiligo is unknown, but some researchers suggest its relation to autoimmune body responses, oxidative stress, neural or viral causes. Less than 1% of world population experiences this disorder, with non-segmental vitiligo as its most common form.
Vitiligo and some implications
Despite being relatively common, little about this disorder is known by the general public which may partly be due to the lack of concrete medical explanations regarding its actual causes. Physical appearance is important to most people in the modern society and the physical manifestations of vitiligo can make it quite difficult to live with. People who suffer from this skin disorder often find it hard to adjust with gradual and uneven change of skin color. Some racial issues also arise when darker-skinned people are faced with ridicule for having a prospect of light skin in the future.
Who are affected by Vitiligo?
About 65 million people of the total world population or roughly 0.5 – 1% experiences the depigmented skin patches. In the United States, 1 to 2 million people has vitiligo. Half of them start showing symptoms as early as age 20; most people are affected by this disorder before reaching 40. It affects both sexes from countries all over the world and more noticeable in people having darker skin tone.
One assumption is that the disorder can be passed to offspring or can be inherited, that is, children with parents or relatives who have the disorder may have chances of showing symptoms later on. In fact, 30 percent of people diagnosed with vitiligo have relatives who also have the disorder. However, children of parents with vitiligo have only 5 to 7% chance to experience the same and most people showing symptoms have no relatives with vitiligo.
Currently there is no straightforward cure for vitiligo. Doctors can only suggest treatments to slow its progress or even bring about re-pigmentation. Corticosteroid creams are prescribed by some to be used for a limited period of time applied topically on affected patches of skin. It can be applied on parts where skin is just starting to lose its color and slow it down or bring about re-pigmentation but unfortunately this does not work for everyone. Some worries for side effects such as thinning of skin or development of stretch marks but with proper medical supervision these may be totally avoided.
Protopic cream (Tacrolimus) recently licensed for the treatment of eczema proves effective in some for restoring lost pigment on skin patches of the face that are still actively being depigmented. GPs may prescribe Protopic cream for treatment although it is not originally licensed for vitiligo. Dermatologists can only recommend its application; a GP’s prescription is needed before one can start using Protopic.
Another NHS treatment is known as PUVA. This involves the intake of medication (Psoralen) and regular hospital visit for Ultraviolet Light treatment, two to three times a week for a period as prescribed. Alternatively, narrowband Ultraviolet Light B (UVB) may be used two to three times a week for a period also as prescribed by a physician. With UVB no other medication is required and exposure to radiation is for a shorter period of time. The alternative light source also reduces the risk of developing skin cancer. Both treatments may restore part of skin’s lost pigment only in some people. Moreover, results are not guaranteed to last.
We frequently receive inquiries regarding the use of Pseudocatalase with narrowband UVB but at present, there is a lack of clinical trials to support this and may also prove to be expensive.
Some also try going for laser treatments but there are conflicting evidences for its effectiveness in different cases and the technology required entails a higher cost to perform the procedure.
In a case any of these treatments brings positive results of restoring pigment on skin patches, it is still not certain whether de-pigmentation will happen again later on.
How we want to help
We understand that people suffering from this condition go through a lot of physical, psychological, and social stress. Our aim is to help people cope up better by being properly informed through our interactive website, information helpline, up-to-date newsletters regarding the diagnosis and treatment of vitiligo, and regular events for our members.
We also encourage people
- Through campaigns for a better understanding of this condition and by letting the general public know how people with vitiligo go about everyday dealing with the consequences of having this disorder, we hope to change the way most people treat them with prejudice because of misconceptions.
- By gathering and distributing information regarding the condition not only to people who have vitiligo but also to people they encounter everyday to bring about sympathy instead of ridicule and discrimination.
- By offering ways to cope with vitiligo and promote a positive approach of living with the condition.