Having Diabetes Often Means Taking a Closer Look at Your Skin.

Posted by Anita Mehta, M.D. on Dec 23, 2015 9:00:00 AM

Because diabetes, unmanaged diabetes in particular, causes so many internal problems, health issues that manifest on the outside of the body, especially the skin, are unfortunately commonplace. The side effects of diabetes, such as reduced blood flow and insulin resistance, not to mention the illness itself, can cause multiple skin issues that you need to keep an eye out for. If you’re living with diabetes, it is important, first, to make sure you’re managing the illness as your physician has instructed you, but it’s also critically important that you know what to look for regarding skin complications that could indicate a larger issue.

Problems Associated with Reduced Blood Supply to the Skin

If you have diabetes, you already know that the disease can reduce blood flow to your skin. But did you know that this can cause some serious skin issues? Your skin is an organ, and like all of your organs, it needs a healthy supply of blood flow to flourish. The reduced blood flow caused by narrowing veins, plaque buildup and hardening arteries can cause a host of skin issues you need to be aware of. 

  • Necrobiosis lipodica diabeticorum (NLD) – NLD is a rash that occurs in patients with diabetes. The rash usually occurs on the skin and is characterized by reddish brown or dark pink patches with yellow centers. Oftentimes, these rashes appear on the patient’s skin and can become open wounds if they’re not treated properly

  • Diabetic Dermopathy – Diabetic dermopathy is the term used to describe tiny round skin lesions that usually occur on the shins. They are usually dark in color – referred to as hyperpigmentation. The cause is unknown, but physicians believe there is a link between diabetic dermopathy and vascular complications.

  • Digital sclerosis – Digital sclerosis is a condition that occurs mainly on the backs of fingers and hands and occasionally on the toes, feet or forehead. It causes the skin to thicken and feel waxy and tight. Physicians believe the only way to reverse this issue is to get blood sugar levels under control and to maintain those healthy levels.

  • Eruptive Xanthomatosis – Eruptive xanthomatosis is another condition linked to poor blood sugar control and high triglycerides. The symptoms to look for include firm bumps on the skin that are yellow and waxy. They are often itchy and surrounded by red halos. The best way to treat eruptive xanthomatosis is to control the level of fats in the blood.










Skin Problems Linked to Diabetes

There are a few skin conditions that seem to be linked to just having diabetes itself. Included in those are:

  • Scleroderma - This is an autoimmune disease that causes the skin to harden. It is often characterized by Raynaud’s phenomenon (which includes heart palpitations, healed pitting ulcers on the fingertips, fainting, hypertension and congestive heart failure) and skin lesions.

  • Vitiligo – Vitiligo is a skin condition that causes portions of the skin to lose its pigment. Ultimately, skin pigment cells die or are unable to function. People with diabetes seem to be more prone to vitiligo. 

Skin Problems Linked to Diabetes and Insulin Resistance

Another symptom that can occur in diabetics is insulin resistance. One skin issue linked to insulin resistance is Acanthosis nigricans. This disorder manifests in areas of the skin, especially in the skin folds, darkening to a brown or tan color. It is often raised and feels “velvety” to the touch and often includes wart-looking bumps. This commonly appears on the back of the beck, in the armpits, under the breast and in the groin area and frequently appears in patients who are overweight. 

Regardless of the skin issue, it is important to know what to look for and to keep your physician informed if you are noticing a change - good or bad - in your condition. 


Dr. Anita Mehta is a board-certified dermatologist who works at Kelsey-Seybold’s Main Campus. Her clinical interests include skin cancer, psoriasis, acne and eczema, among others. 


Topics: vitiligo, diabetic dermopathy, NLD, scleroderma, digital sclerosis, eruptive xanthomatosis, diabetes skin problems

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