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Home :: Skin Disorders

Acanthosis Nigricans - Definition, Causes, Symptoms and Treatment


Acanthosis Nigricans
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Acanthosis nigricans is a disorder that may begin at any age. It causes velvety, light-brown-to-black, markings usually on the neck, under the arms or in the groin. It is most often associated with being overweight. Acanthosis nigricans is traditionally characterized by hyperpigmented, velvety plaques in body folds, though involvement of other areas occurs as well. Acanthosis nigricans is most often associated with obesity. Elevated levels of insulin in most cases probably cause acanthosis nigricans. The elevated insulin levels in the body activates insulin receptors in the skin, forcing it to grow abnormally. Acanthosis nigricans is mainly a cosmetic concern. Acanthosis can bee seen in extra places, such as the lips or hands and is unusually severe. Acanthosis nigricans is not a skin disease but a cutaneous sign of an underlying condition or disease. As a result, there may be a gradual onset of certain symptoms, including excessive urination and increased thirst, and the development of particular complications without appropriate treatment.

There are two important types of acanthosis: benign and malignant. Although classically described as a sign of internal malignancy, this is very rare. People with lymphoma or cancers of the gastrointestinal or genitourinary tracts can also develop severe cases of acanthosis nigricans. Occasionally acanthosis nigricans is congenital or due to an endocrine disorder. When acanthosis nigricans develops in people who are not overweight, a medical work-up should be done. These conditions usually cause itchiness, and your dog's scratching can cause trauma to the skin and a worsening of the problem. Rarely acanthosis nigricans is associated with a tumor, most commonly of the stomach or gut. Physicians can usually diagnose acanthosis nigricans by simply looking at a patient's skin. A skin biopsy may be needed in unusual cases. There's no specific treatment but treating any underlying conditions may cause the skin changes to fade.

Causes of Acanthosis nigricans

Acanthosis nigricans can affect otherwise healthy people, or it can be associated with medical problems. This occurs due to insulin spillover into the skin which results in abnormal growth being observed. The most common cause would be insulin resistance, usually from type 2 diabetes mellitus. Some drugs, particularly hormones such as human growth hormone or oral contraceptives, can also cause acanthosis nigricans. Other causes are familial, obesity, gastric cancer, idiopathic, and Polycystic ovary syndrome.

Common causes and risk factors of Acanthosis nigricans:

  • Type 2 diabetes mellitus.
  • Being overweight.
  • An endocrine disorder or a tumor.
  • Malignant ( gastric cancer ).
  • Some drugs, particularly hormones such as human growth hormone or oral contraceptives.
  • Dark-skinned individuals.

Signs and Symptoms of Acanthosis nigricans

Acanthosis nigricans doesn't cause any symptoms other than skin changes. Skin changes are the only signs of acanthosis nigricans. Sometimes the lips, palms or soles of the feet are affected as well. The skin changes appear slowly, sometimes over months or years. Rarely, the affected areas may itch. Physicians can usually diagnose acanthosis nigricans by simply looking at a patient's skin. A skin biopsy may be needed in unusual cases.

Sign and symptoms may include the following :

  • Dark, thick, velvety skin.
  • Papillomatosis.
  • Skin tags often found in and around affected areas.
  • Itching.
  • Lesions may also appear.

Treatment for Acanthosis nigricans

There is no definite cure for acanthosis nigricans. The primary aim of treatment is to correct the underlying disease process. Because acanthosis nigricans itself usually only causes changes to the appearance of the skin, no particular treatment is needed. Acanthosis nigricans may not be life threatening but it sure indicates an underlying condition that may prove fatal if ignored. Treatments considered are used primarily to improve cosmetic appearance and include topical retinoids, dermabrasion and laser therapy. Sometimes oral medications such as etretinate or isotretinoin are helpful. Fish oil supplements may also be recommended.

Treatment may include:

  • A cream or lotion to help lighten the affected areas.
  • Sometimes oral medications such as etretinate or isotretinoin are helpful.
  • Excise may be used.
  • Sometimes dietary changes are helpful, too.
  • Fish oil supplements may also be recommended.