Vitiligo or Leukoderma: Common Causes and Risk Factors

Context

Vitiligo is a chronic autoimmune skin condition that causes white or light patches to appear on our bodies.

Credit: MedlinePlus

The disorder, also known as Leukoderma, is common in India, accounting for between 0.25 and 4 percent of all outpatient dermatology cases, according to studies. Gujarat and Rajasthan have the highest rates, accounting for up to 8.8% of all outpatients with skin problems.

In India, vitiligo carries a significant social stigma. Low self-esteem and psychological stress are common in people with autoimmune diseases. Patients struggle with vitiligo for the rest of their lives due to ingrained superstitions (belief that the disorder is the result of past sins) and a lack of awareness. Because of the matrimonial issues that come with it, the stigma affects young women the most.

The exact cause of this condition is unknown, as is what causes the immune system to mistakenly attack healthy skin pigment cells. When melanocytes, or the cells that give colour to the skin, hair, and eyes, stop working, discoloration occurs.

Experts believe that a combination of factors such as genetics, autoimmunity, stress, skin damage, and chemical exposure play a role in an individual’s risk of developing vitiligo.

Vitiligo and leukoderma are caused by a variety of factors.

  • Variations in several genes have been linked to an increased risk of developing vitiligo. Around 30% of cases are genetic, and one-fifth of those who have vitiligo have at least one close relative who also has the disease. While a person’s family history may increase their chances, researchers agree that it is not the only cause of vitiligo.
  • Studies have found a clear genetic link between Vitiligo and other autoimmune diseases, including those that affect the thyroid gland specifically. While the exact cause is still unknown, it is possible that it occurs because vitiligo patients’ immune systems produce antibodies that destroy skin pigmentation cells.
    • Vitiligo affects 15 to 25% of people who have at least one other autoimmune disease. Vitiligo is more likely to develop in people who already have an autoimmune disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or hypothyroidism.
  • External factors such as stress, skin trauma, or exposure to strong chemicals appear to trigger the development of Vitiligo in people who are genetically predisposed to it.
    • Vitiligo patches may spread or develop in people who already have the condition as a result of triggers. For example, the first signs of skin pigmentation loss may appear on an area of skin that has been exposed to chemicals or has suffered skin damage. When a person is subjected to high levels of emotional and physical stress, their condition may deteriorate.
  • Variations in more than 30 genes have been linked to an increased risk of developing vitiligo, according to research. The majority of genes are involved in the immune system or the function of melanocytes in the body.
    • Although some researchers are aware that certain genetic mutations put some people at a higher risk of developing Vitiligo, the reasons for these changes are not entirely clear, emphasising the importance of other contributing factors.

Risk Factors in Your Lifestyle

It is impossible to predict whether or not a person will develop vitiligo. Experts have identified a number of risk factors that can increase the likelihood of developing the disease, particularly if the person has a genetic predisposition to it.

  • Stressful events or chronic emotional or physical stress, according to studies, may trigger the development of vitiligo, particularly in patients who are genetically predisposed. Skin changes are likely to be triggered, in part due to hormonal changes that occur when a person is under extreme stress. Trauma and major life stressors have also been linked to autoimmune disease, according to research.
  • Another external risk factor for developing the disease is exposure to or contact with certain chemicals. Some experts speculate that the chemicals aid in the progression of stress pathways already present in melanocytes, which leads to autoimmune inflammation. Furthermore, genetic influence can increase cellular stress in melanocytes or lower the stress threshold that the immune system can handle.
  • In people who already have Vitiligo, a chemical called monobenzone can cause skin depigmentation to develop and worsen. Another class of chemicals thought to play a role in Vitiligo is phenols, which are thought to disrupt Melanocyte function. Adhesives, disinfectants, paints, insecticides, and other products contain these chemicals as ingredients.

Coutesy: DNA India

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