Uncommon autoimmune diseases occur with increased frequency in patients with vitiligo, researchers said here at the 73rd Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).
"Vitiligo is a pigmentary disorder that can be progressive," said Iltefat Hamzavi MD, Henry Ford Hospital, and Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan.
The researchers looked at 1,873 medical records of patients who were seen over a 10-year period at the Henry Ford Health System and found a final study population of 1,098 with vitiligo.
Findings showed a significantly higher prevalence of thyroid disease among patients with vitiligo compared with the general US population, as well as a higher prevalence of alopecia areata, linear morphea, and Guillain-Barre syndrome (P < .001 for all).
The prevalence of discoid lupus (P < .003) and myasthenia gravis (P < .002) in patients with vitiligo, compared with the prevalence of those conditions in the general population, were approaching statistical significance.
Based on the findings, the researchers recommend that vitiligo patients be screened annually for thyroid disease.
"If patients have onset of nerve weakness, you may have to get a primary care physician or neurologist on board," said Dr. Hamzavi.
The role of therapy in warding off autoimmune disease in this patient population is unclear.
"We don't know if we treat the vitiligo early if we will prevent the other auto-immune disease from developing," said Dr. Hamzavi.
Some of the limitations of the study include the lack of a control group.