What is acanthosis nigricans?
Acanthosis nigricans is a very common skin pigmentation disorder. The most important sign of acanthosis nigricans is dark patches of skin with a thick, velvety texture. The affected areas of the skin may also be itchy or odour.
These patches appear in skin folds and other areas, namely:
- Soles of the feet
Acanthosis can be a sign of a more serious health problem, such as prediabetes. The most effective treatments focus on finding and resolving the medical conditions that are at the root of the problem. These skin patches disappear after successful treatment of the root condition.
Acanthosis nigricans symptoms
The main characteristics of acanthosis nigricans are the following:
- Hyperpigmentation: Some areas of the skin become darker or more pigmented and may turn grey, black, or brown.
- Hyperkeratosis: areas of skin that become thick and velvety. Over time, skin lines can become deeper and more noticeable and pimple-like growths appear.
Acanthosis nigricans can also cause the following additional skin symptoms:
- High roughness
- Unusual smell
Malignant acanthosis nigricans can cause more severe and extensive skin changes than the benign (non-cancer) form. Some people experience these skin changes only on one side of the body. This is called arbitrary acanthosis nigricans.
Changes in the skin generally develop slowly. Sometimes they are present at birth, but they usually appear in childhood or adolescence. They can occur anywhere, but generally affect:
- The back and sides of the neck.
Less commonly, acanthosis nigricans develops in:
- Behind the knees
- In front of the elbows
- Soles of the feet
- Under breasts
Causes of acanthosis nigricans
Acanthosis nigricans is not a disease. Instead, it is a symptom of an underlying disorder. Skin changes occur when skin cells begin to regenerate very quickly.
The following factors cause acanthosis nigricans:
- Insulin resistance: Acanthosis nigricans generally affect the oesophagus and those with insulin resistance, a condition in which the body cannot use insulin effectively. Insulin resistance can eventually lead to type 2 diabetes.
- Hormonal disorders: People with hormonal disorders such as Addison’s disease, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), or hypothyroidism can develop acanthosis nigricans.
- Genetics: Hereditary acanthosis can be present at birth, but most people develop it in childhood or later in life.
- Medication use: Taking birth control pills, corticosteroids, or over-the-counter medications, such as niacin, can lead to this disease. Some bodybuilding supplements can also cause this skin disorder.
- Cancer: In rare cases, malignant acanthosis nigricans can occur in people with certain types of stomach cancer, including gastric adenocarcinoma and other cancers and lymphomas.
Those with ob arrhythmias or those with a hormonal disorder are at increased risk of acanthosis nigricans.
- Ob arrears. People who are overweight are more likely to develop insulin resistance or diabetes. Research suggests that up to 74 percent of people with Ese arrears may have this condition. Women may be more prone to oesophagal-associated acanthosis nigricans.
- Race. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, It is most common in people of African, Caribbean, Hispanic, or Native American descent.
- Genetics. People with family members who have this disease are at risk for developing this condition.
- Have a hormonal disorder. People with conditions that affect their hormones are more likely to get this disease than others.
- Taking certain medications or drugs. Certain medications, including hormonal contraceptives and steroids, increase the risk of developing this disease.
How is acanthosis nigricans diagnosed?
It is easy to spot with the naked eye. Your doctor may want to check for diabetes or insulin resistance. These tests can include blood glucose tests or fasting insulin tests. Your doctor can also check to see if your actions are a contributing factor.
It is important to inform your doctor of any foods, vitamins, or bodybuilding supplements that you are taking in addition to your prescription medications. In rare cases, your doctor may rule out other tests like a small skin biopsy for other reasons.
Treatment and home remedies
Doctors usually begin by treating the underlying disorder. Once it is under control, the skin changes usually go away.
Treatments vary depending on the underlying problem and include:
- Weight Loss
People with this disease as a result of arrhythmia or insulin resistance may find that their skin improves after weight loss. Weight loss will be followed by constant fatigue and tiredness.
- Stabilizing hormones
For those with a hormonal disorder, it can be resolved by managing your condition with medications, lifestyle changes, and other therapies.
- Diabetes management
People with type 2 diabetes need medication, regular monitoring of blood sugar levels, and diet and lifestyle changes. Once insulin levels stabilize, the symptoms of this disease can resolve.
- Some medications should be avoided
If specific medications or drugs are causing this disease, a doctor may recommend avoiding them or switching to an alternative. In most cases, the skin returns to normal after stopping the drug.
- Cancer treatment
Malignant acanthosis nigricans may disappear after the cancerous tumor is surgically removed. Other treatments for cancer include chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
- Cosmetic procedures
To reduce the appearance or odour of this disease, some people try cosmetic treatments, including:
- Prescription creams to lighten the skin or smooth thick and rough areas
- Laser treatment to thicken or lighten the skin.
- Antibacterial soaps
- Topical antibiotics
- Oral medications
Cosmetic treatments do not address the root cause of this disease, although they do improve the appearance of the skin until other treatments are implemented.
Can acanthosis nigricans be prevented?
Acanthosis nigricans is an important component of weight management prevention when it comes to obesity. A diet that helps reduce insulin helps prevent acanthosis nigricans. Other preventive strategies include treating medical problems associated with acanthosis nigricans (such as hypothyroidism) and preventing medications that cause or aggravate the condition (such as birth control pills).
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can generally prevent acanthosis nigricans. Losing weight, controlling your diet, and adjusting the medications that contribute to the condition are crucial steps. Healthy lifestyle choices can also reduce your risk for many other types of diseases.