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Acanthosis Nigricans: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

Overview

Acanthosis nigricans is a skin condition that is characterized by areas of dark, velvety discolouration in the body folds. This skin condition is usually a symptom of an underlying disorder. 

This blog is a comprehensive guide to understanding acanthosis nigricans, its causes, symptoms, prevention, and treatment.

What are acanthosis nigricans?

Acanthosis nigricans is a skin condition that is characterized by areas of dark, velvety discolouration in the body folds and creases. The skin that is affected might become thickened. Acanthosis nigricans most often affect the armpits, groin, and neck.

The skin changes of acanthosis nigricans typically occur in obese people or those with diabetes. Children who develop this condition are at a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Occasionally, acanthosis nigricans might be a warning sign of a cancerous tumor in an internal organ, such as the stomach or liver.

What are the symptoms of acanthosis nigricans?

The only signs of acanthosis nigricans are skin changes. People may notice dark, thickened, velvety skin in the body folds and creases, usually in the armpit, groin, and back of the neck. The skin may emit an odor or itch.

When should you consult the doctor?

People must consult the doctor when they notice changes in their skin, mainly if the changes appear suddenly. They might have an underlying condition that requires treatment.

What are the causes of acanthosis nigricans?

Obesity is the most common cause of acanthosis nigricans.

The other causes include:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Conditions affecting hormone levels include Cushing’s syndrome, polycystic ovary syndrome, or an underactive thyroid.
  • Taking certain medications such as steroids or hormone treatments such as the contraceptive pill
  • Cancer – typically stomach  or liver cancer or lymphomas  (this is rare)
  • A faulty gene inherited from parents (this is rare)

Sometimes healthy people with black or brown skin with no other conditions may experience acanthosis nigricans.

What are the risk factors for acanthosis nigricans?

The risk factors for acanthosis nigricans risk factors include:

  • Obesity – the heavier people are, the higher their risk of acanthosis nigricans.
  • Race – studies show that this condition is more common among Native Americans in the United States.
  • Family history – certain types of acanthosis nigricans appear to be hereditary.

What are the complications of acanthosis nigricans?

People with acanthosis nigricans are at a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

How are acanthosis nigricans treated?

Once the doctor discovers the cause of acanthosis nigricans, they can recommend treatment. The patches should disappear over time after the treatment. If people are obese, the doctor may recommend they lose weight.

Depending on the cause, they can also recommend the following:

  • Medications to balance the hormones
  • Medicines to balance the insulin levels
  • Changing the medications to ones that do not cause these skin issues 

Since there is no specific treatment for the patches, sometimes people are concerned about the appearance of their skin or the lesions becoming uncomfortable or starting to smell bad. In such cases, the doctor may suggest the following:

  • Prescription creams – These lighten or soften the affected areas
  • Antibacterial soaps – must be used gently, as scrubbing could worsen the condition
  • Topical antibiotic
  • Oral acne medications
  • Laser therapy so that the thickness of the skin is reduced

How is acanthosis nigricans prevented?

People must maintain a healthy lifestyle because it can typically prevent acanthosis nigricans. They can also:

  • Maintain a moderate weight
  • Manage their diet
  • Adjust any medications that are contributing to the condition

Conclusion

Acanthosis nigricans is a treatable skin condition that causes dark patches on the body. Often, it is (though not always) a sign or a symptom of prediabetes or diabetes. People must speak to the doctor if they have an underlying condition that is causing the acanthosis of nigricans. The doctor may help them get treatment to decrease the marks and help them feel and look good.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is acanthosis nigricans contagious?

No, acanthosis nigricans are not contagious. People cannot pass it to other people or get it from them.

2. Are acanthosis nigricans dangerous?

Acanthosis nigricans may be a sign of an underlying condition that needs treatment. When people notice unusual marks or skin shading, they must see a doctor or a dermatologist (skin specialist) to determine the course of treatment.

3. Will acanthosis nigricans go away on its own?

Acanthosis nigricans will not go away on its own, but people always don’t require medical treatment. When no underlying condition is causing this condition, people can decide if they want to treat the dark patches or leave them be.

4. Is acanthosis nigricans reversible?

People typically see good results after the completion of the treatment. The skin clears. However, the dark spots may not completely fade. 

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