Submitting Request...


Vitiligo more than a skin deep disease – Ogden Clinic provided source, Standard-Examiner 4/21/2015

OGDEN – Vitiligo affects the skin, but it’s not just skin deep. It’s also an autoimmune disease that can have an impact on a person’s emotional and physical well-being.

Vitiligo is a condition that causes color loss, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. It most commonly affects the skin, resulting in light-colored or white patches, but it also may develop in the hair, in the eyes or inside the mouth. The amount of color loss varies from patient to patient.

The condition affects millions of people worldwide, striking about half of its victims before the age of 21.

Dr. Jason Hadley, a dermatologist at Ogden Clinic, said while the trigger of vitiligo is unknown, it is caused by our immune system destroying the cells in our skin that create skin pigment. Vitiligo is thus an autoimmune condition.

“Vitiligo tends to be completely asymptomatic and is currently non-preventable,” Hadley said. “Patients simply begin to randomly develop skin patches of lighter color. As the condition progresses, more and more skin surface area turns white. In some cases, it can progress to involve all skin.”

A study conducted at Henry Ford Hospital shows the condition can be detrimental to patients’ emotional health, causing low self-esteem and depression. It may also cause physical problems, such as thyroid disease, painful or itchy skin and sudden hair loss.

After evaluating 10 years of patient data, researchers found nearly 20 percent of the 1,098 vitiligo patients had at least one additional autoimmune disease. Thyroid disease was 15 times more common in these patients than in the general U.S. population, while sudden hair loss, also known as alopecia areata was 31 times more common. Some relatively rare conditions occurred in only a few of the patients studied, but they were more prevalent in the vitiligo population than researchers expected. These conditions included linear morphea, a disorder that causes hardening or thickening of the skin, which occurred 182 times more frequently than expected; Guilllain-Barré syndrome, a condition in which the immune system attacks the nervous system, which occurred 137 times more frequently than expected; and myasthenia gravis, a disorder characterized by muscle weakness, which occurred 36 times more frequently than expected. Other conditions with increased prevalence in the vitiligo patients studied included lupus, inflammatory bowel disease, and Sjögren’s syndrome, which results in dry eyes and a dry mouth.

“It is true that certain autoimmune conditions tend to group together to a small degree. I think the simplest way to think about this is that some patients simply are more prone to develop autoimmune diseases,” Hadley said. “This is why we see autoimmune induced thyroiditis at slightly increased rates in patients with vitiligo. It’s not that having vitiligo somehow induces other autoimmune conditions.”

Hadley said there are treatments available for vitiligo that vary in effectiveness. Localized areas are often treated with topical anti-inflammatory medications. More widespread disease can be treated with narrowband ultraviolet B therapy.

“Fortunately, there are a few medications headed for approval in the United States that have promising initial results. They are not yet available, but hopefully we will be able to offer these therapies to our patients within a few years,” Hadley said. “If you have areas of vitiligo, it’s important to understand that in affected patches of skin, you have dramatically decreased protection from the harmful rays of the sun and the development of skin cancer in these areas is absolutely increased. Protection is the key with appropriate clothing and sunscreen.”

In addition, researchers say it’s also important for vitiligo patients and their doctors to be aware of the potential for additional physical and emotional problems.