Diabetes skin disorders

Diabetes can cause complications affecting all parts of the body, including the skin. The American Diabetes Association reports that up to 33 percent of people with diabetes have diabetes-related skin disorders at some point in their lives.

Skin disorders linked to diabetes

Diabetic dermopathy: Symptoms are oval or circular scaly patches on the skin, ranging in color from light to dark brown. Commonly called "shin spots," these patches typically appear on the lower legs. Medical treatment is traditionally not required.

Diabetic blisters: People with high blood glucose levels are especially at risk for this rare disorder. Symptoms are sores on the hands, fingers, feet, and toes, and occasionally on the legs and arms. The blisters are relatively painless and, in most cases, heal on their own. They commonly afflict individuals with poor blood sugar control or those with diabetic neuropathy.

Vitiligo. Vitiligo is a skin disorder that affects the coloration of the skin. More commonly found in individuals with type 1 diabetes, vitiligo occurs when cells that produce pigment are destroyed. This leads to the discoloration of the skin, most often in patches. Treatment options include tattoos (micropigmentation) and topical steroids. 

Acanthnosis nigricans: Symptoms are raised patches of tan or brown skin. Affected areas usually include the neck, armpits, and groin. It is especially common in overweight people with type 2 diabetes. There is currently no cure or treatment for acanthnosis nigricans, although weight loss may help improve the condition.

Eruptive xanthomatosis: More common in people whose diabetes is not under control, and in young men with type 1 diabetes, although those with type 2 diabetes also are at risk. Symptoms are firm, yellow, pea-sized blisters. Parts of the body most often affected are arms, hands, feet, legs, and buttocks. Controlling fat levels in the blood is the primary method of treatment and may require taking lipid-lowering medications.

Digital sclerosis: Symptoms are thickened areas on the skin, which become very tight and waxy in texture. Often affects the hands, but knees, ankles, and elbows may also be affected. The tightness of the skin can make it difficult to move the joints underneath the skin. Elevated blood sugar increases the risk of developing this fairly common condition. Treatment includes lotion and getting blood sugars under control.

    Three ways to prevent and treat diabetes skin disorders

    Besides working to keep your blood sugar in check and your diabetes under control, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases advises taking general measures to keep your skin healthy.

    1. Wash with mild soap, rinse and dry the skin well, and apply lotion
    2. Wear cotton clothing, which allows sweat to evaporate
    3. Monitor your skin for sores, dry spots, and rashes

    Be sure to notify your doctor if you notice any changes in your skin.

    Article sources  expand

    About Leah DiPlacido

    Leah DiPlacido, Ph.D. is a biomedical writer and editor and has writes articles about various topics in health including disease, drugs, and vaccines. She received her doctorate degree in Immunology at Yale University, and conducted postdoctoral research at University of Connecticut. She has authored research articles and editorials in journals such as Arthritis and Rheumatism and Journal of Immunology. Leah now writes about topics in health for doctors, scientists, and the general public.

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