T1D & Vitiligo
Editor’s Note: This content has been verified by Marina Basina, MD, a clinical associate professor at Stanford University. She’s a clinical endocrinologist and researcher with a focus on diabetes management and diabetes technology. Dr. Basina is an active member of multiple medical advisory boards and community diabetes organizations, and she is on the Beyond Type 1 Science Advisory Council.
What is Vitiligo?
Vitiligo is a relatively rare disease—it affects between .1 percent and 2 percent of the global population. Since vitiligo is thought to be an autoimmune disease like type 1 diabetes, those with type 1 diabetes are at higher risk than those without type 1 to develop vitiligo.
Vitiligo is a disease in which the immune system attacks the melanocytes in the skin, which are skin cells that produce melanin, a pigment that gives skin its color and sun protection. This means that those with vitiligo have patches of skin that are much lighter than others. These lighter patches of skin spread in random ways, and may take weeks or months or years. Melanocytes are also found in the mucus membranes and the eye’s retina.
Signs and Symptoms of Vitiligo:
- Milky-white patches of skin (pigmentation)
- Premature whitening of hair
- Loss of color of inside of mouth
- Loss of color in retina
Getting a Diagnosis
In order to diagnose you with vitiligo, your doctor will want to know about your medical history in order to rule out other reasons for the symptoms that you are experiencing such as psoriasis or dermatitis. They may also take a small biopsy of the affected, discolored skin and ask for you to perform a blood or lab test in order to see if you also have other autoimmune conditions. Your doctor may also shine an ultraviolet light onto the affected skin to check for skin discoloration.
There is no known cure for the autoimmune response involved in vitiligo, and although there are many different forms of therapy to restore skin tone, the results are unpredictable. The therapies that intend on evening out skin tone include cream medication, medication that is intended to delay the autoimmune response, light therapy and different forms of surgery. Protecting yourself from UV rays such as the sun will limit the difference between affected and unaffected skin.