Dermatologists find that the skin offers a window to what is going on inside the body, and changes to the skin may signal a more serious health problem.
The key is, knowing how to spot these early warning signs so the internal disease can be successfully treated and before it becomes a bigger problem.
In some cases, the skin can show signs of an internal disease before the disease advances and becomes more serious; in other cases, a symptom is noticeable on the skin long after the disease begins causing damage internally. There are hundreds of nuances of the skin that could spell trouble, but a handful of general skin changes commonly signal an internal disease.
A butterfly rash across the face is often the first sign of lupus. But don’t jump to conclusions. “It could be rosacea, it could be contacted dermatitis. Unfortunately, sometimes it is a sign of lupus,” says University of Miami dermatologist Paolo Romanelli, MD. Only further tests can tell if it’s really lupus.
Velvety plaques in the neck and/or armpit suggest diabetes. This condition — acanthosis nigricans — could be benign or be caused by obesity. But it is very often a sign of diabetes. In rare cases acanthosis nigricans occurring in other places, such the hands or lips may indicate internal cancer.
Itchy, Violet Bumps on Wrist
Lichen planus is a rash made up of reddish-purple, flat-topped bumps that may 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 it, you may need to get liver tests. It could be linked to having hepatitis C.
Flesh Colored, Orange-Peel Patches on Back
Shagreen patches are flesh-colored lesions on the lower back that have the texture of an orange peel. They often occur with other skin signs: red or brown acne-like bumps spreading across the cheeks and nose; and ash-leaf spots of under-pigmented skin, most often on the trunk, that are oval at one end and pointy at the other.
Tripe palms describe a skin condition in which the skin of the palm becomes thick and velvety-white with pronounced folds in the lines of the hand. The skin resembles boiled tripe. About 90% of cases can be linked to cancer. If only the palms are involved, it may likely be lung cancer. If ‘tripe palms’ condition is accompanied by acanthosis nigricans, it’s more likely stomach cancer.
Scaly Rash on Buttocks, Red Tongue
Fortunately, necrolytic migratory erythema is pretty rare. It’s a red, scaly rash, sometimes with small erosions of the skin, more often seen in elderly people. It tends to start in the fold of the buttocks or palms but can be elsewhere on the body. A bright red, painful tongue is common. The condition usually signals a pancreatic tumor, usually a glucagonoma.