Vitiligo is an acquired pigmentary disorder of unknown etiology that is clinically characterized by the development of white macules related to the selective loss of melanocytes. The prevalence of the disease is around 1% in the United States and in Europe, but ranges from less than 0.1% to greater than 8% worldwide. A recorded predominance of women may reflect their greater willingness to express concern about cosmetically relevant issues. Half of all patients develop the disease before 20 years of age. Onset at an advanced age occurs but is unusual, and should raise concerns about associated diseases, such as thyroid dysfunction, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes mellitus, and alopecia areata. Generalized vitiligo is the most common clinical presentation and often involves the face and acral regions. The course of the disease is unpredictable and the response to treatment varies. Depigmentation may be the source of severe psychological distress, diminished quality of life, and increased risk of psychiatric morbidity. Part I of this two-part series describes the clinical presentation, histopathologic findings, and various hypotheses for the pathogenesis of vitiligo based on past and current research.
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