So why do doctors not treat it like other autoimmune conditions?
Assuming that #vitiligo is usually, if not exclusively, the result of an autoimmune response, it is not surprising that no magic pill to cure it has yet been found. As far as I can tell from searching the net, one of the features that all autoimmune diseases have in common - apart from the faulty immune response itself - is the total absence of a cure.
Given this fact, anyone diagnosed by their doctor with diabetes, thyroiditis, lupus or psoriasis can expect to be told not to worry about their symptoms but to go home and forget about them, right? Wrong! Where appropriate, they are prescribed medication and, in most cases, given advice on the various therapies, lifestyle and dietary changes that can help to keep their condition under control. Yet, in the vast majority of cases I hear about, newly diagnosed vitiligo patients are told that their condition is not life-threatening, that little or nothing can be done about it and that what can be done will probably only be of temporary benefit.
Practitioners of alternative therapies, on the other hand, have long understood that #autoimmune illnesses (including vitiligo) can be managed, with varying degrees of effectiveness, ranging from slight improvement (any improvement at all is a welcome relief, in my experience) to total remission if protocols are kept in place. So why is it that our mainstream western medical establishment is so poor at offering non-drug-related therapies and advice for autoimmune disease in general, and for vitiligo in particular?
Well, if I were a complete cynic I would probably say that the powerful profit motive created by the drug companies has something to do with it. If I were less cynical I would guess that the average family doctor is just too busy to spend time on complex, hard-to-treat cases where one size does not fit all. In reality, I think there is more than a grain of truth in both explanations. But neither one gets to the heart of why vitiligo patients in particular are so poorly served by conventional medicine. It can't simply be down to the fact that it is "incurable". Autoimmune thyroid disease is incurable, pernicious anaemia is incurable, as are Addison's disease, diabetes mellitus, lupus, alopecia areata, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and any other autoimmune illness you care to name. And, although conventional treatment of these usually fails to take a holistic approach (which I fervently believe that it should) it does at least take the health risks associated with them seriously. The same cannot be said for vitiligo, which leads me to think that the main reason for inferior vitiligo care is ignorance.
I believe that most general practitioners - and even many dermatologists - are simply not sufficiently knowledgeable about vitiligo. Of all the autoimmune conditions they see on a regular basis, they seem to understand vitiligo and its effects on sufferers least. They often appear ignorant of the potential seriousness of the other physical and psychological implications of the condition. All too often, they do not investigate the likelihood that their vitiligo patients have other autoimmune conditions or other underlying health problems that may be triggering their pigment loss and they totally underestimate the psychological impact that loss of skin colour has on most individuals and in many cultures. In short, they mistakenly think that the only symptom of vitiligo is the patchy loss of skin colour and so they relegate it to the category of annoying but harmless skin complaints.
The down side of this state of affairs is that it leaves the door open for all sorts of unscrupulous marketeers to plaster their irritating and patronising scribble videos and endless sales pitches all over the internet promising what we all know does not exist – a guaranteed vitiligo cure. But, on the positive side, it has led to vitiligo friends joining together globally on forums and social media, giving mutual support and strength, swapping tips on what has and has not worked for them. And it has led to the emergence of many, genuine and safe therapies and self-help protocols that are helping sufferers to take the management of their vitiligo into their own hands and improve their confidence and quality of life.
For those of us who have found that the only way of being proactive in our search for better health is to do our own research, gain as much knowledge from credible sources as possible, apply some logic, and even indulge in a little (safe) self-experimentation from time to time in order to find the vitiligo solutions that work for us, the experience can seem laborious. But it can also be a fascinating and satisfying journey of discovery and self-knowledge in a way that seeing your doctor and being handed a prescription for magic anti-autoimmunity pills would not (nice though that would undoubtedly be)!
My name is Caroline.