Diabetes is a disease of the metabolic system characterized by high blood sugar. Failure of the pancreas to produce insulin or of the body to properly use the insulin that is produced by the pancreas results in high levels of blood sugar. The disease currently affects more than 29 million Americans.
Diabetes affects most of the human body, including the skin. In fact, it is sometimes the skin that shows the first signs of the disease. Fortunately, most skin conditions caused by diabetes are preventable and can be treated if addressed early.
Some of the adverse effects of diabetes on the skin include:
- Bacterial Infections – People with diabetes are prone to the following bacterial infections: boils, carbuncles, folliculitis, infections around the nails, and sties. Inflamed tissues can be easily identified because they are often hot, red, swollen, and painful. Infections may be caused by several organisms, the most common of which is Staphylococcus bacteria, common known as staph. If left untreated, bacterial infections can be fatal to people with diabetes. Diabetics are more prone to infection, especially when their blood sugar is elevated.
- Fungal Infections – People with diabetes are prone to fungal infections, especially to infections associated with Candida albicans. This fungus causes rashes that are moist, red, and surrounded by scales and tiny blisters. Fungal infection occurs mostly in the warm and moist folds of the skin. Fungal infections may take the form of athlete’s foot, jock itch, ringworm, and vaginal infections.
- Acanthosis Nigricans – This is a condition where dark areas develop in body folds, including in the armpits or groin area and on the sides of the neck. These areas may thicken in time. They are more common with obese people. Losing weight can help with this condition as can the application of topical creams.
- Diabetic Dermopathy – Vascular complications brought on by diabetes can cause diabetic dermopathy, which results in skin lesions. It causes reddish papules to develop which progress to small, circular, hyper-pigmented lesions, usually on the shins.
- Necrobiosis Lipoidica Diabeticorum – This condition also manifests on the lower legs. It is a rash characterized by raised, reddish-brownish patches. The patches often turn into open sores that do not heal well.
People with diabetes are also prone to diabetic blisters, eruptive xanthomatosis (pea-like enlargements on the skin), and digital sclerosis (thickening of the skin on the back of the hands).
Diabetics can avoid skin problems by controlling their glucose levels, eating healthy, and maintaining an active lifestyle.