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Vitiligo and you - Part 1

Sunday, August 12, 2007

/ by Srikanth Eswaran
This blog entry is particularly provided to help people understand the problem of vitiligo or leucoderma and deal with both the physica and social impact it causes in one's life. Vitiligo or Leucoderma is in layman's terms the appearances of white patches on the skin of the individual. Both terms mean the same thing, and in a more technical perspective, your skin has cells called melanocytes which produce a colouration called melanin. When these cells lose the ability to produce the colour, pigmentation occurs causing white patches. There are three types of Vitiligo, one which is minimal and only on some parts of the body, one which is lateral which occurs either on the front or back side of the body and one which is total, ie., the pathces are many and sporadic all over the body from head to foot.

The most immediate impact is a social stigma caused by this problem becuase of which we feel inferior to move around with normal looking people. This behaviour stems from the concern of what people would be discussing about you and your problem behind your back. This very concern increases the stress which increases Vitiligo. It is important to understand what causes Vitiligo and how to control the spread and impact caused by the problem. The most common cause of vitiligo is supposedly said to be Stress. Partly it is also caused due to heredity. Stress can be better defined as a state of affair involving demand on physical or mental energy. It is any condition that exhausts either of these energies. Having said that, the common examples of stress could be a fight you pick up with a friend or relative, or a nasty situation at office where you and your boss dont agree, or even situations where you are worried because you think too much about an uncertaintity and compound the worries in you. When such situations occur it is understood that all the blood flow in the body is provided to more important organs, but not the skin cells. These cells are of least priority and are not cared for in these situations. This kills the melanin cells rendering the skin area white and patchy.

Coming to the issue of social stigma, the effects are a bit disastrous. You dont feel like talking to people about your problem, you dont want anyone in the public to see you or stare at you. You dont feel like attending public functions or parties for the scare of people finding out your problem and enquiring about it with you. You are threatened about the impossibility of your marriage or having kids and in general about the way you lead your normal life. In short you even head towards a depression of some sort. Its not uncommon for people to act panicky about each and every small problem you face about your health during the appearance of Vitiligo. You also tend to associate each and every change in your skin and attribute it to the spread of your problem.

Having said this much on this well known problems, its important you also know what are the treatment options available. The most common is standing in sunlight. Of course you would need to take tablets containing Psoralen, a chemical that would that react with ultraviolet (UV) light to cause darkening of the skin. If sunlight every morning does not seem to work, you go to the next stage of treatment which includes PUVA and PUVB (Psoralen ultra violet) light therapy for about 3 times a week for 10-15 minutes per session. Be advised that this treatment can cause side effects of skin cancer and cataract, the latter being more prominent if you dont safeguard your eyes while getting treated. The next option avaialble for a possible improvement of the spots, would be to undergo a cosmetic surgery of sorts. This surgery is of three types, progressively becoming more modern. The first
is to make a skin graft, that is take skin from good sections and graft them to the patched areas. The second is to do a punch graft, that is to take skin from a good section, divide it into many little pieces and punch them onto the patchy areas after which they start multiplying in that region. The last and perhaps the most modern is the melanocyte transplant procedure. In this procedure, the skin from good regions is removed, and put into a centrifuge machine, where after some time, the cells are seperated out of the skins. The solution containing the cells are then applied on the patchy areas after they are sufficently prepared to receive these live melanocytes (skin cells). These cells then thrive on the patchy regions and produce the necessary colour, reducing patches on the skin.

All these procedures always dont produce results. The results largely depend on the individual's body constitution and his stress levels. Yes they are a good try, but not always sucessful to the extent of 100%. The next part of this article will explain how to deal with the social stigma caused due to vitiligo.

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