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Vitiligo causes white patches to appear on the skin. The vitilgo patches may appear nearly anywhere, but are more common in areas where the skin is exposed to the sun.

Common areas to be affected include the following:

What causes vitiligo?

The cause of vitiligo is not known. Vitiligo may be an autoimmune disease, which happens when your immune system mistakenly attacks some part of your own body. In vitiligo, the immune system may destroy the melanocytes in the skin (these are the cells that make the pigment in your skin called melanin).  When attacked, they can no longer make pigment in normal amounts.

It is also possible that one or more genes may make a person more likely to get the disorder.

Some researchers think that the melanocytes destroy themselves. Others think that a single event such as sunburn or emotional distress can cause vitiligo. But these events have not been proven to cause vitiligo.

Who is affected by vitiligo?

1-2 million people in the U.S. are affected by vitiligo. Most develop symptoms before their 40th birthday. The disorder is equally likely to affect men and women, and people all races 

People with certain autoimmune diseases, such as hyperthyroidism or celiac disease, are more likely to get vitiligo than people who don't have any autoimmune diseases. However, most people with vitiligo have no other autoimmune disease.

Vitiligo may also run in families. Children whose parents have the disorder are more likely to develop vitiligo. However, most children will not get vitiligo even if a parent has it.

People with vitiligo often have hair that turns gray early. Those with dark skin may notice a loss of color inside their mouths.

Will the white patches of vitiligo spread?

There is no way to tell if vitiligo will spread. For some people, the white patches do not spread. But often the white patches will spread to other areas of the body. For some people, vitiligo spreads slowly, over many years. For others, spreading occurs quickly. Some people have reported more white patches after physical or emotional stress.

How is vitiligo treated?

There are several treatment options that are aimed at restoring color to the white patches of skin. The choice of treatment depends on:

Some treatments are not right for everyone. Many can have unwanted side effects. Treatments can take a long time, and sometimes they don't work.

Current treatment options for vitiligo include medical, surgical, and other treatments. 

Medical treatments include:

Surgical treatments include:

Other treatments include:

What can people do to cope with vitiligo?

When you have vitiligo, you may be upset or depressed about the change in your appearance. You can do several things to cope with the disorder:

Some people with vitiligo have found that cosmetics that cover the white patches improve their appearance and help them feel better about themselves. A person may need to try several brands of concealing cosmetics before finding the product that works best.

Reference: NIH