Although there is no official data available on the prevalance on Vitiligo in Qatar, many dermatologists in the country believe it is not so uncommon to find people suffering from this medical condition that causes white patches on the skin. Hamad Medical Corporation sees approximately 500 Vitiligo patients a year, and its Department of Dermatology and Venerology provides a number of special treatment methods and services to try to control the condition including phototherapy, eximer laser, ultraviolet radiations, oral medications, steroid creams or systemic corticosteroids, skin transplantations, advanced research and partnerships with international institutions (see 'What are the treatments available in Qatar?' for more information), according to The Peninsula.
Vitiligo is a medical condition that affects the skin. In Vitiligo, melanocytes which are the skin cells that produce the pigment melanin stop working and cause depigmentation of the skin. This depigmentation shows up on different parts of the body as white patches on the skin.
Though any part of the body can be affected, depigmentation usually first starts on those areas of the skin that are more exposed to the sun, like the face, lips, hands, feet and arms, face and lips. However, sometimes, there is premature whitening or graying of the hair on the scalp, eyelashes, eyebrows or beard, a loss of colour on the inside of the mouth, and even change or loss of colour of the eye’s inner layer which is the retina.
Vitiligo may or may not spread to the rest of the body. According to the American Vitiligo Research Foundation Inc.:
“Vitiligo generally appears in one of three patterns:
1. Focal. Depigmentation is limited to one or a few areas of your body.
2. Segmental. Loss of skin color occurs on only one side of your body.
3. Generalised. Pigment loss is widespread across many parts your body.
The natural course of Vitiligo is difficult to predict. Sometimes the patches stop forming without treatment. In other cases, pigment loss can involve most of the surface of your skin.”
Although anyone at any age can get Vitiligo, it most often starts in the 20s – 30s. Men and women who get Vitiligo are mostly healthy people. However, it may be more common in people who have autoimmune diseases (diseases in which your immune system reacts against your body's own organs or tissues), like Addison's disease, vitamin B-12 deficiency anemia (pernicious anemia), or thyroid disorders, including hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.
People with darker skin tones are more prone to develop Vitiligo than those with lighter tones.
Vitiligo is not contagious.
Although the actual causes of Vitiligo are still somewhat of a mystery, one thing is for sure. It is not a life-threatening medical condition, however, people with Vitiligo often suffer from self-esteem issues due to the discoloured appearance of the skin.
Vitiligo cannot be cured, but there are some treatments that can restore the pigment and even out the skin tones, but it's important to seek treatment during the early stages. More often than not, people visit the doctor when the condition has worsened and, in that case, treatment may not be very effective. Vitiligo treatment is unpredictable and the outcomes may vary depending on the individual and how widespread the condition is. That's why, it's important to start treatment in the early stages of the condition as there are more chances of restoring the pigment.
The following treatment options are available in Qatar for those suffering from Vitiligo:
Phototherapy (light therapy) is one of the oldest and also one of the most effective treatments for Vitiligo till date. In Phototherapy, the white patches of skin affected by depigmentation are exposed to ultraviolet B (UVB) light a few times a week.
Corticosteroid creams which are anti-inflammatory are used to repigment the skin by applying on the affected areas. This treatment is only effective if the Vitiligo is in the early stages. Other topical treatments include calcineurin inhibitors (like tacrolimus or pimecrolimus) or topical vitamin D medications (like calcipotriol and tacalcitol) which are often used with the cortisteroid creams and phototherapy..
Phototherapy and topical creams are often used together to combat Vitiligo because its results are better.
If other medical treatments are not effective, then surgical treatment is an option for those who want to avail it. In skin transplantation, skin grafts are taken from normally
pigmented skin, usually from the buttocks or hips, and transferred to the depigmented areas (white patchy areas) in more visible parts of the body. Within a few months, the transplanted skin grafts work to make pigment, which deposits in the surrounding skin and the white patches disappear. This option is better in the early stages of Vitiligo and more effective.
Vitiligo can be life altering from someone who has the condition because it affects the physical appearance and can cause a number of psychological and social impacts like low self-esteem, social stigmatisation, social anxiety, depression, avoidance of intimacy and fear, and may also affect the quality of life.
Richard is from Kenya and works in Doha. He was diagnosed with Tuberculosis in 2016 and while he was under treatment, he noticed a white patch on his lower lip and then on his jaw. When he went to the doctors here, he was diagnosed with Vitiligo and told that it was incurable, but not life threatening in anyway, and that treatment varied from person to person.
It was hard for Richard. People would turn and stare at him which was disturbing for him. And he feared the day he would wake up and find his whole body covered from the Vitiligo. He spent a year away from social media hiding from everyone so they wouldn't see the white patches. Most people from his family still haven't seen his Vitiligo, as he hasn't been home since his diagnosis. Eventually, his sister encouraged him to come out of his depression and try to create awareness about Vitiligo and the stigmas attached to it, so that people understood the condition more.
Today, Richard has come to terms with his Vitiligo and is trying to create awareness of Vitiligo in Qatar through social media. He wants to form a group where people with Vitiligo from all over Qatar can come together and talk about their condition and support each other, along with trying to encourage doctors in Qatar to conduct more research on the subject of Vitiligo to try and find a cure.
Since Vitiligo is mostly incurable, most people will have it for life, so it's very important that people with Vitiligo develop strategies to cope with the condition.
One way is to learn more about Vitiligo and treatment options, so one can make informed decisions about healthcare, and also connect with other people who have the condition and provide each other support.
Confide in friends and family, and also the doctor if one feels emotionally distressed. And most importantly, don't let Vitiligo take over your life.
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Do you know anyone with Vitiligo? How much do you know about this medical condition? Do let us know your thoughts in our Comments section. Like and share the article - it keeps us going!
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