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Piebaldism is a rare hereditary condition where patches of hair and skin appear white. This is due to a deficiency of melocytes, the cells that produce the melanin pigment that colors these areas. Most individuals with piebaldism are born with the white areas fully developed. It is not curable and usually does not cause any serious health problems. The disorder is believed to have gotten its name from a combination of the names of the eagle, due to the white feathers on its head and the magpie, because it has white and black feathers.
This condition is caused by a genetic mutation that depletes melanocytes. It originates in the follicles and bottom layers of the skin before it spreads to the hair and the top layer of skin. White patches can be small or cover wide expanses of the body. Patients with piebaldism may also have patches of skin with hyperpigmentation, or darkened skin.
Most patients with piebaldism have a white forelock of hair. As the condition is hereditary, it is possible for several members of the same family to have this trait. While many patients dislike the white patches of skin caused by piebaldism, the forelock has tended to be viewed as a mark of distinction by many cultures.
It is common for a patient to have a triangular patch of white skin in the middle of the forehead as well. Many individuals will also have depigmentation in other areas located in the middle of the body, including the back, trunk, and neck. Other common areas that may lack pigmentation include the eyebrows, arms, legs, and feet.
Though it is believed to be linked to albinism, patients with piebaldism typically do not suffer the same problems with vision, as it does not appear to affect pigment in the eyes, nor is skin sensitivity as severe. Most individuals with the condition do not have any systemic problems or a shortened life span. In rare instances there have been links found between piebaldism and the development of problems such as mental retardation and deafness.
Piebaldism has generally not been curable. Many patients handle the condition by either ignoring it or concealing white areas with make-up and hair dye. Though medical professionals have found some success restoring pigmentation with skin grafts, this has only shown to be effective in small areas of the body. There have also been attempts to darken the affected areas of skin with targeted phototherapy, but these have tended to be unsuccessful.
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