Vitiligo is a disorder that results in damage
to and loss of melanocytes (cells within the skin
that produce melanin, the skin's natural color or pigment). This damage results in patches of depigmented
skin. The process primarily affects the skin, but may also affect pigmentation
of other sites, including the eyes and hair. Vitiligo may be focal (occurring in only a few patches), segmental (in which the patches occur on one side of the body only), and generalized (patches throughout the body). The course of
vitiligo varies and some patients may develop only a few patches while others
may experience almost total depigmentation. Vitiligo may affect persons of
all ages; however, its onset most commonly occurs during young adulthood.
The cause of vitiligo is not completely understood; however, it is thought
to be an autoimmune process (a process by which the
body produces an immune response against some of its own cells, in this case
melanocytes, resulting in their destruction). The February 9, 2005, issue
of JAMA includes an article that describes the disorder
and discusses available treatments.