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Medically reviewed by Dr. Shani S. Saks, D.O. on August 2, 2023

A recent study examined the prevalence of vitiligo and the quality of life of vitiligo patients in the United States, Japan, and Europe. 

Vitiligo is an autoimmune disorder characterized by skin depigmentation, which can significantly impact the quality of life (QoL) of affected individuals. However, misconceptions that the condition is a cosmetic issue may lead to underreporting. This study, published in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology & Venereology, assessed the prevalence of vitiligo and explored the relationship between sociodemographic and clinical characteristics and QoL using a population-based, multinational survey.

Participant Characteristics

Participants aged 18 years and older were recruited from online panels throughout Europe, Japan, and the United States. They were asked to report any skin disorders they may have experienced. Those reporting vitiligo, whether formally diagnosed or showing signs of skin depigmentation but unaware of vitiligo and not diagnosed, were included in the analysis of vitiligo prevalence. 

Participants self-reporting physician-diagnosed vitiligo were given a broader survey to examine disease progression, management, and QoL using the vitiligo-specific quality-of-life (VitiQoL) instrument.

Higher VitiQoL Scores Were Noted in Patients With Head, Hand, or Wrist Lesions

Among 35,694 survey participants (Europe: n = 18,785; USA: n = 8,517; Japan: n = 8,392), the estimated total vitiligo prevalence was 1.3% (diagnosed: 0.6%; undiagnosed: 0.4%; vitiligo signs: 0.3%). 

Out of 219 formally diagnosed vitiligo patients (Europe: n = 150; USA: n = 48; Japan: n = 21), the total VitiQoL scores were significantly associated with age (P = 0.00017), disease extent (P < 0.0001), disease progression (P < 0.0001), disease management (P < 0.0001), and time since diagnosis (P = 0.0015). 

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Behavioral scores varied based on skin phototype (P = 0.024) and ethnicity (P = 0.048). 

Higher total VitiQoL scores were reported in patients with head lesions (P = 0.027) and those with both head and hand and/or wrist lesions (P = 0.018). 

Across all body areas, there was substantial high concern (rated 8–10 on an 11-point Likert scale) for vitiligo lesions, with variations observed across geographical regions.

How Healthcare Professionals Can Help Close the Gap on Undiagnosed Vitiligo

This study suggests that the prevalence of vitiligo may be higher than previously reported, with a considerable proportion of individuals remaining undiagnosed. Among formally diagnosed patients, disease severity and progression significantly impact QoL. The study’s results highlight the importance of early diagnosis, appropriate management, and support to improve the QoL of individuals living with vitiligo.

The findings of this multinational study shed light on the  prevalence of underreported vitiligo and its impact on the QoL of affected individuals. A substantial proportion of individuals with vitiligo remain undiagnosed, emphasizing the need for increased awareness and early detection. Also, the study highlights the significant impact of disease progression and extent on QoL, underscoring the importance of timely disease management and support.

Healthcare professionals can benefit from the insights gained from this study to better understand the challenges faced by patients with vitiligo and tailor interventions accordingly. By addressing the emotional and psychological impact of the condition and providing appropriate care, healthcare providers have the potential to improve the well-being of those living with vitiligo. Finally, raising awareness about vitiligo and dispelling misconceptions can contribute to reducing stigmatization and improving the overall QoL of affected individuals.

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Bibeau, K., Pandya, A. G., Ezzedine, K., Jones, H. W., Gao, J., Lindley, A., & Harris, J. E. (2022). Vitiligo prevalence and quality of life among adults in Europe, Japan and the USA. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, 36(10), 1831–1844. https://doi.org/10.1111/jdv.18257