Diagnosis, Treatment, and Cause: Learn More About Vitiligo
About one percent of the population has the skin condition known as vitiligo. The disease affects the pigmentation of the skin and causes white patches to form. Many experts believe it is an autoimmune disease that attacks the pigment cells in the areas where the patches appear. It usually affects the skin but can lead to the loss of pigment color in the hair and eyes as well.
Diagnosis Comes First
People diagnosed with vitiligo normally notice pigmentation changes in early adulthood between the ages of 20 -30. A diagnosis begins with a skin biopsy of an affected area along with blood tests to see if there are other autoimmune conditions affecting the body. A complete check of the body with a special black light reveals where the condition is active. The biopsy determines if the pigment-making cells known as melanocytes are missing in the lightened areas of skin. The lack of melanocytes proves the disease is present. Thyroid conditions often occur in patients with vitiligo, so medical professionals will also test to see if there are signs of thyroid disease. A diagnosis matters even if the patient is uninterested in pursuing treatment. The tests can help reveal thyroid problems and other autoimmune diseases as well as verify the condition. Psoriasis and eczema can produce white spots, as can pityriasis alba, a type of atopic dermatitis and tinea versicolor, a yeast infection of the skin. It is necessary to rule out these treatable problems.
Symptoms Can Vary
The severity of the pigmentation loss and the location where it occurs varies between patients. Many people have no other symptoms than the patches of white skin. Others may feel discomfort in the unpigmented areas. The most frequent problem associated with vitiligo is the embarrassment sufferers feel over their appearance.
Treatment Options Possible
Patients that want to improve the condition have many options available. Corticosteroids have been effective for those that begin its use soon after the signs of the condition appear. Depigmentation of the natural skin color with a topical cream to even out the skin tone is a possibility for people with widespread patches. Patients with small patches may find improvement with skin grafting. Micropigmentation is a surgical form of tattooing where the dermatologist adds pigment to the affected areas. Medical experts warn against the use of traditional tattoos to cover the spots because skin damage can cause new patches to form. All treatment methods have some potential for side effects. Many patients choose to forgo those risks and use cosmetic creams each day to camouflage the patches. The solution can help, but it is also time-consuming and may need reapplication through the day to remain effective.
Research Bolsters Hope
Patients dismayed by the choices or those that cannot find a solution with traditional therapies may have more options soon. Medical researchers continue to develop treatments that could reverse the damage for many people. The testing currently includes drugs that stimulate or control melanocyte growth and one that they believe will safely reverse the loss of color. Another potential option is a combination of treatments that some doctors feel has the potential to improve the skin condition for many patients. The method combines the use of the rheumatoid arthritis drug tofacitinib with ultraviolet-B light therapy. The research is new, but both products have been helpful on their own for many vitiligo cases. The first step is always to seek out a diagnosis, and at Asheboro Dermatology & Skin Surgery Center, we are here to help. Our expertise enables us to diagnosis and successfully treat patients with conditions like vitiligo. Contact us today to schedule an appointment so you can learn more about your options.