Sun | Sep 23, 2018

Diabetes and the skin

Published:Wednesday | December 3, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Arusha Campbell-Chambers,  Skin, Hair & Nail Health

As many of us already know, diabetes mellitus is a chronic disease in which there are increased levels of glucose (sugar) in the blood. This disease affects over 300 million of people worldwide and is unfortunately a leading cause of death. It is more than just 'a touch of sugar', as it is commonly referred to. It can affect many different organs of the body in various ways.

Did you know that the skin can manifest some signs or clues that the individual may have diabetes?

Here are some skin signs of diabetes:

1 Diabetes may cause a yellowish-brown rash on the shins called necrobiosis lipoidica diabeticorum. The affected area may have prominent blood vessels and thinning of the skin in the centre of the rash.

2 Diabetes may also be associated with a velvety thickening and darkening of the skin of the neck, underarms, groin creases and/or face. There may also be an increase in skin tags in the affected skin creases. This condition is called acanthosis nigricans and has many other causes.

3 There may be a woody hardening and thickening of the skin of the back, neck and upper arms called scleredema.

4 Diabetes can put the affected individuals at an increased risk of developing skin infections. Recurrent boils, recurrent redness, cracking and soreness of groin creases, other fungal, bacterial and several other skin infections may arise frequently in these persons.

5 Sometimes diabetes can cause generalised itching (pruritus) of the skin. There are many other possible causes for this problem, however.

6 Diabetes may be associated with narrowing of blood vessels (atherosclerosis) and nerve damage (neuropathy), which may lead to leg and foot ulcers, blisters, dryness, cracking, and even death of skin and other tissue (gangrene).

7 There may be many small, irregular scar-like spots on the shins of diabetics called diabetic shin spots or diabetic dermopathy. Blisters may also develop, and this is called bullosis diabeticorum.

8 Multiple small skin-coloured or yellowish-brown bumps may occur in crops, most commonly on the elbows, thighs or buttocks. These are called eruptive xanthomas and may be caused by an accumulation of fat and/or new-onset diabetes.

9 Diabetics may be at an increased risk of developing vitiligo, which is thought to be another 'auto-immune' disease in which some of the skin cells that give the skin its colour (melanocytes) are destroyed causing white spots on the skin.

10 Thankfully, many of these skin changes do not affect the majority of diabetic individuals. Diabetics can live a long, rewarding life once the disease is adequately controlled and appropriate lifestyle changes are made. As already mentioned above, diabetes can affect many organs of the body. The possible associated changes in the skin may give important clues that diabetes lies within. So as I often say, if in doubt, check it out!

Dr Arusha Campbell-Chambers is a dermatologist and founder of Dermatology Solutions Skin Clinics & Medi-Spas; email: