What Can Skin Reveal About Your Health?

October 31, 2016

Your skin can be a window to underlying health disorders, and sometimes serious conditions can reveal themselves initially on the skin. Dermatologists, therefore, can be instrumental in diagnosing and treating many internal organ conditions.

For instance, a butterfly rash on the face can signify lupus. But it might also be rosacea or contact dermatitis. Testing by a board-certified dermatologist will reveal the actual cause.
There is a skin condition called acanthosis nigricans, which causes velvety plaques on the neck or armpit. This condition suggests diabetes, but it can also be a sign of obesity.
Lichen planus is a rash made up of reddish-purple, flat-topped bumps that can itch like crazy. It usually appears on the wrists or ankles, but may be in the mouth or on the lower back, neck, legs, and genitals. The cause isn’t known, but if you have this skin condition, you may need to get liver tests, as it could be linked to hepatitis C.
If the skin of the palms becomes thick and velvety-white with pronounced folds in the lines of the hand and resembles a boiled tripe, you may have tripe palms. About 90% of cases of this skin condition can be linked to cancer. Your dermatologist will work alongside other physicians to diagnose the condition and create an appropriate treatment plan.
First described in 1997, nephrogenic systemic fibrosis starts as a brown discoloration and indentation of the lower arms and legs. Then the hands and feet become brown and wooden-like. Sometimes there’s also a small yellow spot in the eye. Researchers only recently found that the dye used during MRI exams triggers this condition in some people who have kidney disease.
A rash that does not respond to treatment or is accompanied by fever, joint pain, muscle aches or other symptoms could indicate an internal problem or infection. If the rash occurs on the tops of the feet and lower legs and doesn’t respond to topical steroids or antifungals, it can be a sign of hepatitis C infection. Visit a dermatologist immediately if you’re experiencing these symptoms to prevent further or permanent damage. He or she can diagnose your condition and consult with or refer you to a hepatologist or infectious disease specialist for treatment.
Occasionally, people will develop a rash from an allergy to a new medicine. This skin condition can occur weeks to months after starting a new medication, making it difficult to diagnose. It is a potentially serious medical condition that could involve inflammation of the liver, heart, lungs or thyroid.
See a dermatologist for a proper diagnosis if a rash is accompanied by swelling of the face or lymph nodes, fever or feeling ill.
Dermatomyositis is an inflammatory muscle disease with notable skin changes and is associated, in up to 20% of cases, with a wide variety of internal cancers (ovarian cancer being the most common in women). Signs on the skin include a violet-colored rash on the upper eyelids and in areas that are exposed to sunlight and raised, scaly bumps on the knuckles.
Other skin changes can be seen on the nail folds with visible blood vessels and ragged-looking cuticles that appear thicker and separate from the nail.
Any new growths should be checked thoroughly by a board-certified dermatologist because they could be skin cancer. 
Yellow or waxy looking bumps on the arms, legs or trunk (eruptive xanthomas) could indicate high triglyceride levels and can be a sign of uncontrolled diabetes. In this case, a biopsy in conjunction with laboratory testing can lead to diagnosis and treatment, hopefully reducing the cardiovascular risk from these conditions.
Skin color changes can be a sign of internal diseases, such as yellowing of the skin indicating liver disease. The darkening of the skin can also indicate a problem.
Obvious darkening of creases in the skin, sun-exposed areas, joints, and old scars could be a sign of adrenal diseases, such as Addison’s disease. Your dermatologist can consult with an endocrinologist to make a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
Bronzing of the skin in a patient with diabetes can be a sign of an inherited defect in iron metabolism that leads to liver failure known as hemochromatosis.
Any unusual softening or hardening of the skin could indicate an underlying medical problem. Systemic sclerosis is an autoimmune disease in which one of the early signs is swelling, followed by hardening of the skin. In more severe cases, it could result in the hardening of internal organs, such as the lungs or heart.
Most skin problems do not necessarily indicate that something internal is wrong, but in most cases, it’s better to be safe than sorry and let your board-certified dermatologist assess and diagnose your condition. If necessary, your dermatologist will consult with physicians in other specialties to diagnose internal organ conditions and create a treatment plan that’s right for you.

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