Ruby is 17 years old. At 9, he began to notice that the skin on his neck and arms looked dirty or stained, but no matter how much he rubbed, the stains didn’t go away. When he consulted his doctor, he found out that he had acanthosis nigricans , a condition in which parts of the skin become thicker and darker.
Ruby learned that maintaining a healthy weight would make the condition less noticeable. It helped her to know what was happening and what to do.
What is acanthosis nigricans?
If you have acanthosis nigricans, you are probably concerned about how you look. You will notice that the skin is thicker and darker, especially around the joints and in areas with many folds and wrinkles, such as the knuckles, armpits, elbows, knees and neck.
Some people have darker, thicker skin on the palms of their hands, inner thighs, groin, lips, and other areas. The skin tends to remain smooth, which is why the word „velvety” is often used to describe the symptoms of acanthosis nigricans.
Many people with acanthosis nigricans have no other symptoms or other health problems. But because acanthosis nigricans can be a sign of other medical conditions, it’s a good idea to have it examined by a doctor.
What is the cause of acanthosis nigricans?
People who are overweight or obese are more likely to develop acanthosis nigricans. It is often reduced or gone when you lose weight. Some people with this condition inherit it. Certain medications can also cause acanthosis nigricans; for example, birth control pills or hormone treatments.
Sometimes it occurs in people who have type 2 diabetes or are at higher risk for this type of diabetes. In these cases, acanthosis nigricans itself is not dangerous. But it can be a signal for doctors to check if a person has diabetes or other health problems. In some cases, finding and treating the health problem could make the skin condition better or go away.
According to data from the American Diabetes Association (ADA), approximately 75% of children with type 2 diabetes develop acanthosis nigricans. In many cases, controlling diabetes and weight (if overweight) goes a long way in making acanthosis nigricans less visible.
What to do?
First, don’t panic. Acanthosis nigricans itself is not dangerous or contagious. But you should see a doctor to make sure it is not due to another cause that does require attention. In some cases, acanthosis nigricans can be a sign that you are at risk for diabetes. Anytime you notice a change in skin color, thickness, or texture, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional.
What to expect
If you are diagnosed with acanthosis nigricans, your doctor may want to do blood tests and other tests to try to find out what is causing it or to look for other conditions (such as type 2 diabetes) that are more common in people with acanthosis nigricans.
Treatment for acanthosis nigricans
If your doctor determines that your acanthosis nigricans is not related to a more serious disease, it does not need to be treated. But you may want to do it if your doctor thinks there is a way to help improve the appearance of your skin. In some cases, acanthosis nigricans goes away on its own.
Your doctor may prescribe lotions or creams. Ask all the questions you need to understand how and when to follow the treatment plan.
It’s so easy to believe that the over-the-counter bleaches, creams, and exfoliating treatments that you see in advertisements will help you. But they most likely won’t work and can irritate your skin as well as being a waste of money.
In some cases, maintaining a healthy weight with physical activity and a good diet can help prevent or treat acanthosis nigricans.
You should also make plans to take care of yourself in other ways. Because this condition is visible, some people with acanthosis nigricans feel embarrassed or self-conscious about the way their skin looks. It can help to talk to a psychologist or therapist, a doctor, a friend, or even a support group to help you feel more confident. Your doctor or nurse can probably help you find local or online support groups. And don’t be afraid to talk to your friends. Good friends are the best support.