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Vitiligo is a skin disorder in which white patches of skin appear on different parts of the body because the cells that make pigment (melanin) in the skin are destroyed. Vitiligo is considered generalized because it can affect the skin of any part of the body.

It is a common disorder that is present in about 1 or 2 persons out of 100. Almost half of the persons who develop vitiligo, have it before age 20 and approximately a 20% of patients have a family member with the disease. However, it is not considered hereditary.

The majority of persons with vitiligo have no health problems, although in some cases it is associated with other illnesses such as thyroid disorders or diabetes. It is not known why it appears, but it has been suggested that vitiligo has an autoimmune origin, developing in those persons genetically predisposed. It is thought that auto-antibodies destroy the melanocytes (the cells that produce melanin) but there is no way to predict if generalized vitiligo will spread or how severe the loss of pigment will be.


Vitiligo produces white patches on the skin because of a loss of pigment. Any part of the body can be affected and normally both sides of the body are affected equally and symmetrically. The most common affected areas are the face, lips, hands, arms, legs and genitals. Those persons with severe cases can lose pigment on almost the entire body. The degree of pigment loss varies within each patch of vitiligo.


As the cause of this disease is unknown, currently vitiligo cannot be prevented. It is generally a benign disease without important health problems, but it may have a serious psychological impact on the patient. Vitiligo can progress over time although the existing treatments can improve its manifestation. Patients should avoid sun tanning since that will make the vitiligo patches more noticeable.

Gene or region studied

  • SMOC2
  • 17p13.2
  • PTPN22
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