Uncontrolled diabetes affects different parts of your body, including your skin.
In fact, health experts recommend that diabetic people take good care of their skin, as diabetes can cause a number of skin problems. Staving off skin problems also requires good management of one’s blood sugar (glucose) levels.
Skin problems arise due to high blood sugar levels, reduced sensitivity of nerves and poor blood circulation. Also, greater loss of fluid from the body due to high blood glucose levels can cause the skin to become dry and lead to itching.
People who have diabetes also tend to get skin infections (both bacterial and fungal) that can occur on any area of the body, including between the toes, around one or more of the nails and on the scalp.
If not treated timely, even minor skin problems can lead to serious complications because diabetes slows the process of healing. This is why it is very important to learn about the common skin problems associated with diabetes. Timely diagnosis means better treatment and fewer complications.
Here are some of the common skin problems linked to diabetes.
1. Acanthosis Nigricans
This skin problem is characterized by darker skin in the creases of the neck that feels like velvet. In fact, this is one of the first signs that you may have diabetes, as it occurs due to insulin resistance.
Apart from the back of your neck, acanthosis nigricans can affect the skin on your armpits and groin. Less commonly, it affects areas like the face, inner thighs, elbows, knees and navel or belly button.
Obese people with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing this condition. Losing weight is the best way to reduce that risk.
Also, people with endocrine (glandular) abnormalities, an internal malignancy (especially stomach cancer) and kidney transplant patients can suffer from acanthosis nigricans.
2. Necrobiosis Lipoidica Diabeticorum
This is another common skin disease in people diagnosed with diabetes. It is caused by changes in the blood vessels and is very similar to diabetic dermopathy (described below).
It generally affects the lower legs, where the skin becomes raised, yellow and waxy in appearance. Over time, the lesions develop a purple border and can even cause scarring.
In severe cases, the lesions can ulcerate and become itchy and painful.
This condition may have active and dormant periods, depending upon how well you control your blood sugar level.
3. Digital Sclerosis
People suffering from Type 1 diabetes can have digital sclerosis, which means thick, tight, waxy skin that develops on the back of the hands. Also, the joints of the fingers become stiff and cause mobility problems.
Along with the skin on the back of the hands, the skin on the toes and forehead can be affected. Sometimes, the thickening skin spreads to the face, shoulders and chest.
Keeping your skin moisturized can help soften it, but controlling your blood sugar level is the only treatment for this problem.
4. Eruptive Xanthomatosis
Uncontrolled diabetes can cause eruptive xanthomatosis, which is characterized by firm, yellow, pea-like skin growths. These small bumps have a red halo around them and cause a lot of itching.
It usually occurs on the back of the hands, crook of the elbows, feet, arms and buttocks.
Apart from diabetes, people with high cholesterol and very high triglycerides (fat in the blood) are at a higher risk of developing this problem.
If you are diabetic, do your best to get your blood glucose levels down, as it is the main treatment for this problem. Once your sugar level is controlled, the skin eruptions will disappear within a few weeks.
5. Bullosis Diabeticorum
Also known as diabetic blisters, this skin problem can occur on the back of the fingers, hands, toes, feet, and sometimes on the legs or forearms. These blisters may occur alone or in patches and resemble burn blisters. However, they are not very painful.
People who have severe diabetes and diabetic neuropathy are at a higher risk of suffering from this problem.
Like any kind of blisters, diabetic blisters can cause infections if the problem is not addressed. Keeping your blood glucose level under control is the only treatment for these blisters.