What is vitiligo?

Vitiligo is a chronic (long-lasting) autoimmune disorder that causes areas of skin to lose color. When skin cells that make color are attacked and destroyed, the skin turns a milky-white color. 

A person with vitiligo sometimes may have family members who also have the disease. There is no cure for vitiligo, but treatment may help skin tone appear more even.

Who gets vitiligo?

Anyone can get vitiligo, and it can happen at any age. For many people, the white patches show up before age 20.

Vitiligo seems to happen more in people who have family members with the disorder or who have certain autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes.

What are the symptoms of vitiligo?

The main symptom of vitiligo is loss of natural color. The patches can show up on any part of your body and can affect:

  • Skin, which gets milky-white patches, usually on the hands, feet, arms, and face.
  • Hair, which can turn white on the scalp, eyebrow, eyelash, and beard.
  • The inside of your mouth or nose.

People with vitiligo can also get problems with the eyes and ears. In addition, people with the disorder may worry about how their skin looks, which can affect general well-being.

What causes vitiligo?

Scientists believe that vitiligo is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the skin cells that make color. Also, your family history and genes may play a role in causing vitiligo.

Finally, sometimes a sunburn, stressful life event, or contact with a chemical can make vitiligo start or make it worse.

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