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Health and Wellbeing

Published on May 21st, 2013 | by The Town Crier


Health – Vitiligo

Vitiligo is a common condition affecting 1% of people in which areas of the skin lose their normal pigment and, therefore, become white.  It is painless and not contagious; it affects men and women of all races equally, but is more evident in dark skinned people. Around 20% of people with vitiligo have a family member with the disease but the children of sufferers will not necessarily inherit it. There is currently no known dietary cause.

Skin gets its normal colour from a pigment called melanin which is made by melanocyte cells. Although the cause of vitiligo is not yet fully understood, it is thought than in vitiligo sufferers the body makes antibodies to its own melanocytes and thus destroys them, so the skin is then unable to make melanin properly. After diagnosis, some doctors may check for thyroid disease and for other autoimmune conditions that are more common than usual in people with vitiligo.Vitiligo commonly affects the most exposed areas such as hands and face and is also seen around body openings such as the eyes, nostrils, mouth and genitals. It can also be seen in body folds, around pigmented moles or damaged skin. The hairs growing out of a patch of vitiligo may keep their normal colour or may turn white too so, if the scalp is affected, it may prematurely grey the hair. Vitiligo can begin at any age, but half of sufferers are affected by the age of 20. Progression is usually slow; the patches gradually change their shape and size, but with periods of stability which may last several years.  Sufferers may become embarrassed or depressed by the condition.

Very occasionally, some pigment will return to the affected patches, but rarely completely. Some treatments may slow progress but there is currently no known cure. Prescribed corticosteroid creams may slow the spread in some cases when used under medical supervision.  Protopic cream is unlicensed for vitiligo but may be prescribed by some GPs.  PUVA treatment, carried out at a hospital, may help re-pigment the affected areas but this may not be permanent.

For further details visit www.vitiligosociety.co.uk or www.britishskinfoundation.co.uk

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