Who Is Affected by Vitiligo?

Who Is Affected by Vitiligo?

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 vitiligo develop it before their 40th birthday. The disorder affects all races and both sexes equally.


Key Words

Antibodies--protective proteins produced by the body's immune system to fight infectious agents (such as bacteria or viruses) or other "foreign" substances. Occasionally, antibodies develop that can attack a part of the body and cause an "autoimmune" disease. These antibodies are called autoantibodies.

Pigment--a coloring matter in the cells and tissues of the body.

Pigmentation--coloring of the skin, hair, mucous membranes, and retina of the eye.

Depigmentation--loss of color in the skin, hair, mucous membranes, or retina of the eye.

Melanin--a yellow, brown, or black pigment that determines skin color. Melanin also acts as a sunscreen and protects the skin from ultraviolet light.

Melanocytes--special skin cells that produce melanin.

Ultraviolet light A (UVA)--one type of radiation that is part of sunlight and reaches the earth's surface. Exposure to UVA can cause the skin to tan. Ultraviolet light is also used in a treatment called phototherapy for certain skin conditions, including vitiligo.

Vitiligo seems to be more common in people with certain autoimmune diseases (diseases in which a person's immune system reacts against the body's own organs or tissues). These autoimmune diseases include hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland), adrenocortical insufficiency (the adrenal gland does not produce enough of the hormone called corticosteroid), alopecia areata (patches of baldness), and pernicious anemia (a low level of red blood cells caused by failure of the body to absorb vitamin B-12). Scientists do not know the reason for the association between vitiligo and these autoimmune diseases. However, most people with vitiligo have no other autoimmune disease.

Vitiligo may also be hereditary, that is, it can 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, and most people with vitiligo do not have a family history of the disorder.