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Segmental Vitiligo: Causes, Symptoms, & Signs

By Skin & Hair Academy  |   May 17, 2022
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Vitiligo is a disorder in which melanocytes or the skin cells that make melanin—the original skin colour—stop functioning. As a result, the skin loses its colour, and white spots develop on a person’s body. The patches gradually grow and spread over other body parts in a few months.Though vitiligo can occur at any age, it most commonly develops in people who are between 10 to 30 years of age.Very rarely does vitiligo occur in patients who are too young or too old.

Clinically, vitiligo is divided into—non-segmental vitiligo and segmental vitiligo. Both forms are different, and non-segmental vitiligo is more common than segmental vitiligo.This blog will discuss the causes, symptoms and signs of segmental vitiligo.

What is Segmental Vitiligo?

Segmental vitiligo affects only one part of the body and may never cross the body’s midline. In this type, the spots spread rapidly, after which they tend to stop growing and spreading.

Segmental vitiligo is usually unilateral and asymmetrical; it appears only on one side or segment of the face, leg, or arm. As such, segmental vitiligo is also known as localised vitiligo.

Segmental vitiligo is less widespread than non-segmental vitiligo and more common among children as it generally begins at an early age.

Major Signs and Symptoms of Segmental Vitiligo

  • Hair follicles are also affected in patients with segmental vitiligo, leading to leukotrichia (a condition of depigmentation that spreads to body hair, causing it to turn white). As such, patients with segmental vitiligo may develop white hair, eyebrows, eyelashes, beard, etc.
  • Pale vitiligo patches or spots that turn white eventually.
  • Asymmetrically shaped vitiligo spots.

Causes of Segmental Vitiligo

Vitiligo mainly occurs when pigment-producing skin cells known as melanocytes stop functioning. As a result, there is a lack of melanin—a pigment that gives the skin its colour.Other causes of segmental vitiligo can be determined as follows—

  1. Autoimmune Diseases

    Autoimmune diseases affect the body’s immune system. As a result, the body is not able to produce enough melanocytes (pigmentation-producing skin cells). Autoimmune diseases in which the body’s immune system is impacted include Rheumatoid arthritis, Type 1 Diabetes, Thyroid disease, Addison’s disease, Pernicious anemia, among others.
  2. Genetic Factors

    Vitiligo can be inherited from parents. About 30% of vitiligo cases occur within families. Genetic factors are further known to influence the age of onset of vitiligo.
  3. Neurogenic or Neurochemical factors

    The nerve endings in the skin are known to produce a toxic chemical that is also largely responsible for causing vitiligo. This chemical damages the melanocyte skin cells, causing vitiligo patches.

Treatment of Segmental Vitiligo

Commonly used medical therapies to treat segmental vitiligo include—

  • Topical steroids

    These work to bring back the original skin colour with topical application of corticosteroid creams.
  • Calcineurin inhibitors

    Inhibitors like Tacrolimus help to minimise the appearance of white vitiligo patches.
  • UVB therapy

    This therapy uses focused UV light on affected body parts. This may increase the number of residual melanocyte skin cells.
  • Phototherapy

    This method uses psoralen and UVA light to restore the original skin colour. This treatment is used for both segmental and non-segmental vitiligo. There are two types of phototherapies— UV-B (NBUVB) phototherapy and psoralen–UV-A (PUVA) phototherapy. Usually, long-duration phototherapy is suggested to achieve a successful response Medical treatment is used to manage melanocyte distribution, re-pigment the vitiligo patches and eventually restore the original skin colour. In some cases, the dermatologist may use a combination of therapies, depending upon the diagnosis and severity of the condition.

Conclusion

Although segmental vitiligo is a rare type of vitiligo condition, depending upon the severity of the patient’s condition, today, there is hope. Advances in vitiligo treatment can help change the skin's appearance to some extent. Consulting a dermatologist will help you identify the symptoms and understand the treatment options.

Vitiligo is a non-threatening disease; however, it does cause psychological distress to patients. They are often isolated from society and may hesitate with social interactions. Reading more about vitiligo on Skin and Hair Academy will help you accept your condition, empathise with vitiligo patients or become a better caregiver. You will also be connected to the best dermatologists in your area who can resolve all your queries.

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