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Signs and Complications of Vitiligo

Vitiligo is a condition that causes skin color loss, often in large patches.  Because it changes an individual’s appearance, many view it as a cosmetic problem.  However, it is really a medical disorder.  Understanding more about signs and potential complications is helpful to patients seeking skin treatment in San Francisco.

Overview of Vitiligo

Melanin determines the color of hair, eyes, and skin.  When cells that produce it either die or cease manufacturing it, vitiligo results.  Although experts have not pinpointed why these cells die, they suspect:

  • A faulty immune system that destroys the cells
  • A family history of the disorder
  • A trigger such as stress, chemical exposure, or sunburn

Vitiligo is most prevalent among people with darker-toned skin.  It often strikes those younger than 30.  While neither contagious nor life-threatening, it can be disturbing and steal a patient’s self-confidence.

Signs and Potential Complications

The most characteristic sign of vitiligo is the appearance of white or light-colored patches on an individual’s skin.  They often first appear on areas most often exposed to the sun, such as the face, lips, arms, hands, and feet.  Within a single patch, the skin might show multiple shades of pigmentation.

Other primary signs include:

  • Premature graying or whitening on hair on the scalp, beard, eyebrows, or eyelashes, typically prior to turning 35
  • Color loss in the mucous membranes inside the nose and the mouth
  • Color change or loss in the retina
  • Patches of discolored skin in the armpit, navel, genital, and rectal areas

Dermatologists classify vitiligo cases into three types, based on the character of discolored skin patches:

  • Generalized vitiligo involves discolored patches on many parts of the body that progress symmetrically.
  • Segmental vitiligo occurs on just one side of the body, often in younger patients, and sometimes stops progressing after one or two years.
  • Focal or localized vitiligo affects only a few sections of the body.

Potential complications include an increased risk of:

  • Psychological or social issues
  • Sunburn
  • Skin cancer
  • Iritis and other problems related to the eyes
  • Hearing loss
  • Treatment side effects such as itching

It is often difficult for doctors to provide a prognosis for disease progression.  In some patients, patch formation stops without any type of therapy.  With most, however, loss of pigmentation spreads and might eventually involve a majority of the individual’s skin.  Treatment options include steroidal and non-steroidal topicals, Excimer laser therapy, and narrow band UVB phototherapy.

Disclaimer: We are unable to guarantee any result, even though most of our patients do see success. The results of our services will vary greatly to each patient’s level of commitment and compliance with the program.

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