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What Are the Causes of Vitiligo?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 22 September 2016
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Doctors and scientists aren't completely sure what causes vitiligo. Experts do, however, have theories about its causes. For example, one theory involves genes and the idea that some people inherit a vulnerability to skin discoloration issues. Another theory is that the condition may develop because of an autoimmune problem. Some theories also point to problems with pigmentation cells and injuries or infections that stimulate the depigmentation that marks the condition.

Often, scientists and doctors are able to point to a particular cause when it comes to a disease or condition. Unfortunately, however, this is not the case when it comes to certain types of skin conditions, and vitiligo is one of the them. Doctors and scientist are unsure of what causes the depigmentation that is typical for a person with this skin change. Eventually, studies may reveal the exact causes, but for now, patients typically do not have an answer to why they have developed this disease.

While scientists and doctors do not know the exact causes of vitiligo, they do have theories about its causes. One theory is that the condition may be caused by genes. Some studies have shown that people who have this condition often inherit a particular collection of genes that makes them more likely to develop it. Essentially, the people who inherit this group of genes seem to be particularly vulnerable to skin pigmentation issues.

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Some doctors and scientists theorize that a problem with a person's immune system is one of the causes of vitiligo. They believe the condition develops when a person's own immune system mistakes body tissues for foreign matter and attacks them. When a person's immune system malfunctions this way, the person is said to have an autoimmune condition. There are many types of conditions that are marked by this type of malfunctioning, however. Vitiligo is just one of many that is suspected of being related to immune system issues.

Less often, scientists and doctors present the theory that trauma or injury is among the causes of vitiligo. The idea with this possible cause is that injury to the skin cells may lead to the depigmentation. For example, damage to the skin caused by a severe case of sunburn or an infection could cause the condition if this theory is correct. Others believe a defect in pigment-producing cells is at fault.

Though the causes of vitiligo are unknown, the manner in which the condition progresses is clear. Cells called melanocytes, which are responsible for producing the pigment in the skin, fail to do their job. The area of the skin where the problem cells are located gradually turns white as a result.

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