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Coming out of the dark with Acanthosis Nigricans

Published:Monday | June 15, 2015 | 12:00 AMKrysta Anderson

Ever wondered about that dark discolouration at the back of your neck? By now, you know that it's not dirt build up, since you or those around you have scrubbed tirelessly, only to see no improvement.

You might have brushed it off and learned to accept its colour, or you might have tried bleaching the area, but there is minimal lightening as a result of all your hard work.

Well, maybe this discolouration that you are seeing is a sign of a disease known as Acanthosis Nigricans. So let's come out of the dark and shed some light on this condition.

Acanthosis Nigricans is the medical term referring to the black or brown hyperpigmentation of the skin. And according to Dr Garth Rattray, this may be a telling sign of diabetes or other insulin or tumour-related conditions.

"The discoloration commonly presents itself at the back of the neck, but can also be visible on other parts of the body, namely the armpits or the folds of your skin. It is usually visible in people who are overweight, but it is not limited to that body type. "

Polycystic ovarian syndrome, too, is another big one, said the doctor, because apart from affecting a woman's monthly cycle, tipping the scale with her weight, bringing hair growth to the chin and chest, it causes darkness around the neck as well.

This dark discolouration, he said, may also be a sign of Addison's disease, thyroid problems, growth hormones problems, birth control problems, but Acanthosis Nigricans is most common.




The only treatment available right now for people showing these signs is to try and control or prevent diabetes through diet and exercise, since Acanothosis Nigrican is a lifestyle-modifiable disease, one can change his or her lifestyle for prevention and management. Important to note: diet and exercise do not assist in clearing up the darkness present in the affected area. If the discolouration is there, then there is no way it will ever disappear. It is only a sign, and its effect is for a lifetime, so look out for long-term diseases, and be sure to not limit your scope to just diabetes.

People have also tried to use creams, but in Dr Rattray's opinion, they do not work at all (minimally effective). "If there is sugar in the family, it might mean you will get it, but you don't necessarily have to. Diabetes has been negatively sweeping our nation and should be taken very seriously. So if you see it, look out for diabetes as it could be a precursor to the disease," the doctor advises, "Finding out early can soften the blow against diabetes. So once you see the dark colour of your skin at the back of your neck, or other areas, consult your doctor to find out what exactly what is causing it."