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Definition

What is acanthosis nigricans?

Acanthosis nigricans is a fairly common skin pigmentation disorder that characterized by dark areas, velvety discoloration in body folds and creases. The affected skin can become thickened. Usually, acanthosis nigricans affects your armpits, groin, and neck.

The skin changes of acanthosis nigricans typically occur in people who are obese or have diabetes. Children who develop the condition are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Rarely, acanthosis nigricans can be a warning sign of a cancerous tumor in an internal organ, such as the stomach or liver.

Besides, acanthosis nigricans may be a sign of more serious health problem, such as prediabetes. The most effective treatments focus on finding and resolving medical conditions at the root of the problem. These skin patches tend to disappear after successfully treating the root condition.

How common is acanthosis nigricans?

This health condition is extremely common. It can affect patients at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of acanthosis nigricans?

The common symptom of acanthosis nigricans is skin color change. It usually happens slowly. These patches may have an odor, itch and appear on:

  • Skin folds;
  • Armpits;
  • Groin;
  • Back of the neck;
  • Elbows;
  • Knees;
  • Knuckles;
  • Lips;
  • Palms;
  • Soles of the feet.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above, especially if the changes appear suddenly or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes acanthosis nigricans?

Acanthosis nigricans has been associated with:

  • Insulin resistance. Most people who have acanthosis nigricans have also become resistant to insulin. Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas that allows your body to produce sugar. Insulin resistance is what eventually causes type 2 diabetes.
  • Hormonal disorders. Acanthosis nigricans often occurs in people who have disorders such as ovarian cysts, underactive thyroids or problems with the adrenal glands.
  • Certain drugs and supplements. High-dose niacin, birth control pills, human growth hormones, thyroid medications, some bodybuilding supplements, prednisone and other corticosteroids may cause acanthosis nigricans.
  • Cancer. Acanthosis nigricans sometimes occurs with lymphoma or when a cancerous tumor begins growing in an internal organ, such as the stomach, colon or liver.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for acanthosis nigricans?

There are many risk factors for acanthosis nigricans, such as:

  • Obesity. The heavier you are, the higher your risk of acanthosis nigricans.
  • Race. Studies show that in the United States, acanthosis nigricans is more common among Native Americans.
  • Family history. Some types of acanthosis nigricans appear to be hereditary.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is acanthosis nigricans diagnosed?

Acanthosis nigricans is typically detected during a skin exam.  A small skin biopsy will be tested, to rule out other possible causes. If the cause of acanthosis nigricans is unclear, your doctor may recommend blood tests, X-rays, blood glucose tests or fasting insulin tests. Your doctor may also review your medications to see if they’re a contributing factor.

It’s important to tell your doctor about any dietary supplements, vitamins or bodybuilding supplements you may be taking in addition to your prescription medications.

How is acanthosis nigricans treated?

No specific treatment is available for acanthosis nigricans. Treatment of underlying conditions may restore some of the normal color and texture to affected areas of skin. In many situations, treating the underlying problem can help fade the discoloration. Examples may include:

  • Losing weight. If your acanthosis nigricans is caused by obesity, losing weight may help.
  • Stopping medications or supplements. If your condition seems to be related to a medication or supplement that you use, your doctor may suggest that you stop using that substance.
  • Having surgery. If acanthosis nigricans was triggered by a cancerous tumor, surgical removing the tumor often clears up the skin discoloration.

If you are concerned about the appearance of your skin or if the lesions become uncomfortable or start to smell bad, your doctor may suggest:

  • Antibacterial soaps, used gently, as scrubbing could worsen the condition.
  • Topical antibiotic.
  • Oral acne medications.
  • Laser therapy to reduce the skin’s thickness.

Other treatments to improve skin appearance include Retin-A, 20% urea, alpha hydroxy acids, topical vitamin D, and salicylic acid prescriptions. However, these are only minimally effective.

Acanthosis nigricans caused by a drug may go away once the medication is stopped.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage acanthosis nigricans?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with acanthosis nigricans:

  • Maintaining a healthy lifestyle;
  • Losing weight;
  • Controlling your diet;
  • Avoiding medications that tend to cause or worsen the condition.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: January 4, 2017 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017

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