Background It is stated that patients with vitiligo have an increased risk of developing autoimmune diseases.
Objective The aim of this study was to estimate the prevalence of autoantibodies or overt autoimmune diseases in a group of vitiligo patients examined among a sample deemed to be representative of the general population of young men living in southern Italy.
Methods A total of 60 vitiligo patients were identified among 34 740 potential conscripts visited to evaluate their fitness to compulsory service in Italian Navy, obtaining a prevalence of 0.17% (95% CI: 0.13–0.22), which was deemed the prevalence of vitiligo in the Italian general population of the same age and sex. Forty of these vitiligo patients underwent blood test including also the search of the main autoantibodies.
Results Circulating autoantibodies were detected in 42.5% of subjects. Anti-thyroglobulin antibodies were documented in 27.5%, anti-thyroperoxidase in 22.5%, anti-smooth muscle in 17.3%, anti-nuclear, anti-mitochondrial and anti-gastric parietal cells in 2.5% respectively. Only in two cases (5%) an overt thyroid disease was diagnosed. No significant association between the extension of the skin involved/clinical course of the disease and circulating autoantibodies was detected. Circulating autoantibodies (particularly anti-thyroid antibodies) were statistically associated with a lower duration of the disease.
Conclusions In agreement with other studies, autoantibodies in the lack of clinical manifestations have been frequently observed in our vitiligo patients, especially during the early phase of the disease. The clinical significance of this finding seems to be limited, with the possible exception of thyroid disease, and it needs further exploration, through large cohort studies.