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What Are the Symptoms of Vitiligo?

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  • Written By: Erik J.J. Goserud
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 02 December 2016
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Vitiligo is a skin condition that affects less than 1 percent of people worldwide. Those suffering from vitiligo experience an absence of melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color. Generally speaking, people who have darker skin possess more melanin, lighter-skinned individuals have a lower concentration of the pigment, and a lesion of vitiligo is virtually free of melanin. A person diagnosed with this rare disorder will most commonly experience symptoms of vitiligo pertaining to colorless skin lesions. These lesions can exist anywhere on the body, although vitiligo will most likely manifest itself around a bodily orifice and is likely to be symmetrically located on a person’s body.

The symptoms of vitiligo usually begin as very small patches but tend to gradually increase in size. Their shapes also have been known to be dynamic, sometimes evolving into vastly different forms than they were when they originated. In addition to the physical symptoms of vitiligo, this disease commonly carries with it a number of secondary medical and psychiatric conditions, largely because of the disfiguring nature of the disease. Depression and many anxiety disorders are among the secondary medical issues that might follow a diagnosis of vitiligo.

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There are primarily two types of vitiligo: non-segmental vitiligo (NSV) and segmental vitiligo (SV). Non-segmental vitiligo is the more common of the two, and although it encompasses many subtypes, this classification can be generalized as having symmetrical lesions, covering a large portion of the body and possessing no specific age of onset. Segmental vitiligo typically spreads more rapidly, occurs during teenage years and is not necessarily found in symmetrical patterning. In addition to this, SV might occur in small, localized regions, which contrasts with NSV in that NSV covers a large area of the body.

Although the precise cause of vitiligo is unknown, many experts theorize that its origins are autoimmune, neural, viral or genetic in nature. Melanin is produced by cells called melanocytes. When these cells fail become dysfunctional or destroyed, the human body’s ability to maintain designated levels of melanin also suffers, causing albino skin lesions in seemingly arbitrary locations. This disease affects all races, although it is most noticeable in those who have dark skin, because of the contrasting nature of the lesions in comparison with their complexion.

There is no cure for this disease, although a number of treatments do exist that intend to mask the symptoms of vitiligo. Most of these procedures aim to camouflage the legions. This can be done in a number of ways, including the application of sunscreen to non-affected areas to keep them as pale as possible, the dyeing of affected areas or the bleaching of non-affected areas in attempts to make the skin more uniform in color.

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