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Skin: The window to your internal health on World Health Day & every day

In case you haven't heard, today marks World Health Day, and the World Health Organization is focusing on diabetes for its 2016 campaign.

Why diabetes? Because the diabetes epidemic is rapidly increasing in many countries, and a large proportion of diabetes cases are preventable. In our field, many dermatologists find that skin can work as a window to what is going on inside the body. In some cases, changes to the skin may signal a more serious health problem.

Can skin show signs of diabetes?

Yes, it absolutely can. Here's a quick rundown of common signs that spell internal trouble relating to diabetes.

  1. New growths – red-yellow or waxy looking bumps on your body (usually on the arms, legs or trunk) could indicate high levels of triglyceride, which is often a sign of uncontrolled diabetes. This condition, known as eruptive xanthoma (zan-thoh-muh-tuh), usually disappears when the underlying condition is treated.
  2. Skin discoloration – hyperpigmentation or bronzing of the skin is caused when your body absorbs too much iron. This condition, hemochromatosis (he-moe-kroe-muh-TOE-sis), can lead to life-threatening conditions including diabetes.
  3. Change in texture – Acanthosis nigricans (ay-can-THOE-sis NIE-gri-cans) is a skin condition that causes one or more areas of skin to darken and thicken; often the affected skin feels velvety. This condition can be a sign of pre-diabetes, which increases your risk of getting diabetes. Making lifestyle changes before diabetes develops can prevent diabetes.

If you are concerned about skin changes, send your pictures to an online board-certified dermatologist.

Photo of Acanthosis Nigricans: (Source: American Academy of Dermatology)

It is also important to note that some dermatologic conditions increase the risk of diabetes and obesity. For example, data shows higher diabetes rates in children with psoriasis, a condition marked by thick, red, itchy, scaly patches on the skin.

Should I see a dermatologist or primary care physician if I notice any of these?

Dermatologists are always aware of unusual markings or skin changes that could implicate another medical condition. Being an expert in skin, hair and nail conditions, it is important to see a board-certified dermatologist if you notice any skin changes to ensure proper diagnosis. If necessary, a dermatologist will refer you to another specialist if your condition is a sign of a more serious medical problem.

If you want a dermatologist to quickly evaluate something about your skin, hair, or nails that concerns you today, start a visit online with DermatologistOnCall. Our network of board-certified dermatologists are ready to provide you with a detailed diagnosis, treatment plan and any necessary prescriptions within three business days.