Vitiligo is a skin condition that has been around for centuries and has been documented in various historical accounts. The clear cause for vitiligo has not yet been pinpointed because of varying external factors connected to its development. But, it is now being listed as an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks and kills off the cells that are responsible for the production of melanin.1
Some of the earliest documents describing this condition go as far back as 3,000 years ago, some of which are found in Egyptian and Vedic texts. The only problem is that there is no clear contrast between vitiligo and leprosy during those ages, which led to the shunning of people with vitiligo from society because of the collective dread.2
These two conditions are different even though both cause depigmentation. Nowadays, a wider array of diagnostic devices and clearer distinctions between the two have lessened the societal stigma of vitiligo.3
The psychological impact of vitiligo
The loss of the melanin in select areas of the body can lead to a heightened sensitivity and risk of sunburn.4 But aside from this intolerance to sunlight, the physical changes to a person’s appearance can also cause severe psychological impacts on vitiligo patients.
This is because even though vitiligo has been proven to be noninfectious, some people still tend to be frightened of it, and to even shame or ridicule those who have it. The stigma of this can cause those with vitiligo to suffer numerous psychosocial issues and psychological repercussions.
Emotional effects caused by vitiligo can vary from mild embarrassment to complete loss of self-esteem because of the gradual change in the appearance of those who have it. A 2019 study found that while vitiligo does not typically cause physical impairment, the condition may cause a prevalence of depression and stigma among patients. Nearly 97% of patients were found to have an impaired quality of life.5 To help prevent these emotional effects, family support and counseling are crucial.6
Vitiligo can increase your risk for other autoimmune diseases
People with vitiligo have also been observed to have a higher chance of developing various autoimmune diseases, including:7
• Alopecia areata — This refers to hair loss, which is caused by the immune system’s attack on hair follicles. It can be seen in various areas of the body, mostly on the scalp or the face.8 The risk for alopecia areata does not depend on race, age or sex, with everyone having the same risk as anyone else in the population.9
• Autoimmune thyroid diseases — The thyroid is responsible for the production of some of the hormones that regulate vital body processes.10 Having an autoimmune thyroid disease means that the immune system is unknowingly attacking the thyroid glands, which then causes them to either produce too much or too small of these hormones.
The body processes that depend on these hormones then go haywire, affecting the whole body system. Examples of autoimmune thyroid diseases include Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s disease.11
• Addison’s disease — This is an autoimmune disease in which the body is not able to produce enough hormones because of the destruction of the adrenal glands. Two of the vital hormones these glands produce are cortisol and aldosterone.12
Cortisol is responsible for the regulation of blood sugar and inflammation, while aldosterone functions by regulating both blood pressure and blood volume by controlling salt and water levels.13,14
• Diabetes mellitus — This disease occurs when your pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin or when body cells have become insulin resistant. There are two types of diabetes mellitus: Type 1 and Type 2, with Type 1 being an autoimmune disease. Type 1 occurs when the body is unable to produce insulin because the immune system destroys the insulin-producing beta cells.15
Read these articles to know more about the symptoms, causes, treatment and prevention of vitiligo. You will also learn various holistic treatments and how you can deal with this autoimmune disease naturally.