Vitiligo is a disease that results in pigmentation problems. The main symptoms are white patches on the skin and premature graying of hair. While the causes of vitiligo are unknown, scientists believe the condition may be linked to certain autoimmune diseases and a family history of the disorder. There are several treatment options, including steroid creams, oral medicine, and UVA light.
Vitiligo is a pigmentation disorder in which melanocytes (the cells that make pigment) in the skin, the mucous membranes (tissues that line the inside of the mouth and nose, as well as genital and rectal areas), and the retina (inner layer of the eyeball) are destroyed. As a result, white patches of skin appear on different parts of the body. The hair that grows in areas affected by vitiligo usually turns white as well.
About 1 to 2 percent of the world's population, or 40 to 50 million people, have vitiligo. In the United States, 2 to 5 million people have the disorder. Ninety-five percent of people who have it develop it before their 40th birthday. The disorder affects all races and both sexes equally.
The cause or causes of vitiligo are unknown, but doctors and researchers have several different theories.
While not a cause of vitiligo, certain factors seem to increase a person's risk of developing it. Issues known to be risk factors for the condition include certain autoimmune diseases and a family history of the disease.
However, just because someone has risk factors, it does not mean he or she will develop the condition. Most people who develop vitiligo have no risk factors.