Skin conditions indicating diabetes

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Skin conditions indicating diabetes

The appearance of skin is like an open book often revealing a person’s health and what medical conditions they may have. For instance, a yellowish tint to the skin (jaundice) could indicate liver problems or certain rashes could be signaling lupus. 

Another disease associated with skin issues is diabetes.  Even though this disease primarily affects the heart, kidneys, eyes, and limbs, diabetes can also disrupt the overall health and appearance of skin. It is not uncommon for up to one third of people with diabetes to experience skin problems related to the disease.  Thankfully most of the skin issues if caught early can be treated.  But to avoid serious consequences and complications, those with this disease need to be aware of certain skin conditions that could be associated with it.

One way to keep skin conditions from arising is to keep diabetes in good control.  Following a healthy diet plan, regular exercise, reducing stress, and taking any medications prescribed can all do their part for maintaining good blood glucose levels.  Also simply practicing taking good care of skin to begin with and noticing anything out or the ordinary bringing it to a doctor’s attention can be an excellent method for keeping skin conditions under control.

Here are some common skin problems those with diabetes may experience and to be aware of:

·      Acanthosis nigricans

A condition related to insulin resistance is acanthosis nigricans.   This skin disorder is characterized by velvety dark patches appearing in body folds such as the neck, groin, armpits, knees, elbows, and hands.  People with this skin condition are at a high risk for type 2 diabetes and occur due to an overproduction of insulin.  Treatment for it include following a controlled carbohydrate meal plan to help reduce circulating insulin which may improve the appearance of the skin.  Also Retin-A, alpha hydroxyacids, topical vitamin D, and salicylic acid prescriptions may help somewhat to reduce the darkening.

·      Dry, itchy skin

A common complaint for many with diabetes is dry, itchy skin.  High blood glucose levels can cause this as the body will attempt to rid itself of excess sugar circulating in the bloodstream by causing excessive urination.  If someone with the disease is not properly hydrated, this can result in the skin becoming flaky, dry and itchy.  Poor blood glucose control can also lead to poor circulation in the extremities of the legs and feet leading to dry skin with itchiness.  Maintaining adequate fluid intake and using moisturizing creams throughout the day and after taking a shower or bath can help reduce dryness and itchiness.

·      Skin tags

Many people have skin tags – skin growths that hang from the skin that occur most often on the neck, eyelids, and armpits.  While skin tags are harmless, they are strongly associated with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes indicating high insulin levels in the blood.  Generally skin tags can be removed by a dermatologist. 

·      Skin infections

Both bacterial and fungal skin infections are more common in those with diabetes.  High circulating blood glucose levels are often the culprit in causing a person to be at a higher risk of both of these types of infections. 

Bacterial infections could include boils, nail infections, and hair follicle infections.  Staphylococcus is a common bacteria responsible for bacterial infections in people with diabetes. 

Fungal skin infections will often produce itchy rashes in moist areas of the body such as skin folds.  The rashes can be red, surrounded by scales or blisters and have a yeasty white film in the folds of the skin.  Examples of fungal infections include ringworm, jock itch, yeast infections, and athlete’s foot.

Both bacterial and fungal infections can be treated with prescription medications, achieving good blood glucose control and keeping the skin clean and dry.

·      Open sores and wounds

When someone with diabetes has had high blood sugar levels for a long time, this can lead to poor circulation and nerve damage, particularly in the legs and feet.  If this same person gets a cut or sore, they may take a very long time to heal because of the poor circulation and nerve damage which can lead to what is called a diabetic ulcer

It is very important for anyone with diabetes to daily check their feet including looking at the bottom of their feet.  Any sign of a blister, corn, bunion or any open sore, needs to have immediate medical attention to prevent it from developing into a more serious problem that could lead to amputation.

·      Eruptive xanthomatosis

This skin condition will cause small, reddish-yellow bumps to appear resembling a pimple.  They are usually found on the buttocks, thighs, crooks of the elbows, or backs of the knees.  They tend to be itchy and tender and are the result of insulin resistance which can contribute to high triglyceride levels.  This skin condition can disappear on its own within a few weeks or it may require treatment of getting triglyceride levels under control which may require lipid-lowering medications to do so.