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Acanthosis Nigricans

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

What is acanthosis nigricans (AN)?

AN is a condition that causes dark, velvety patches to form on the skin. The patches form on body folds and creases. The most common areas affected are the back of the neck, armpit, and groin. Your fingers, mouth, nipple area, bellybutton, face, or elbows may also be affected. Your symptoms may be mild or severe. The patches may itch or have an odor. Symptoms develop slowly. Over time, your skin may become thick and leathery.

What increases my risk for AN?

AN is more common in people who have darker skin. AN may be a sign of insulin resistance. This means your body cannot use insulin correctly. Insulin resistance can lead to diabetes. The following can also increase your risk:

  • Obesity, diabetes, or cancer
  • Certain medicines, such as steroids or birth control pills
  • A family history of AN
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), hypothyroidism, or an adrenal gland problem

How is AN diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider may be able to see that you have AN by looking at your skin. Tell him when your skin changes started, and if the changes have gotten worse over time. Tell him if you are taking any medicines. If you are a woman, tell him if you have PCOS or take birth control pills. He may also ask if anyone in your family has AN or diabetes. You may need any of the following to confirm the diagnosis or to find the cause:

  • Blood tests may be used to check for medical problems that can cause AN.
  • A blood glucose test or hemoglobin A1c test may be used to check the amount of glucose (sugar) in your blood. These tests may show if you have diabetes.
  • A biopsy is a procedure used to take a small skin sample to be tested.
  • An x-ray may be used to find medical problems that can cause AN.

How is AN treated?

The skin patches may not need to be treated if they do not cause symptoms. Patches often fade when the cause of AN is treated. Your healthcare provider may stop or change a medicine you take if it is causing your symptoms. You may need to lose weight. You may also need any of the following:

  • Diabetes medicine may be used to help control your blood sugar level.
  • Topical cream or gel medicines may be prescribed. These medicines may make the patches lighter or softer. The medicines may contain ammonium lactate or tretinoin. You may also be given antibiotic cream or soap to use on your skin. Bleaching agents such as hydroquinone may also be used on your skin.
  • Laser therapy may be used to treat thick skin.
  • Surgery may be used to remove a tumor.

What can I do to manage or prevent AN?

  • Reach or maintain a healthy weight. Obesity is a common cause of AN. Extra weight can also lead to insulin resistance. AN skin patches often clear up after weight loss. Your healthcare provider can help you create a safe weight loss plan if you are overweight.
  • Control insulin resistance or diabetes. You may need to change the foods you eat to help control your blood sugar levels. Your healthcare provider or dietitian can help you create a healthy meal plan.
  • Exercise regularly. Exercise can help control your blood sugar level. Exercise can also help you manage your weight. Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise at least 5 days per week, or as directed.
  • Ask about skin care. Some skin care products can irritate your skin and make AN worse. Ask your healthcare provider about gentle skin care products. He may also be able to prescribe or recommend soaps if the patches have an odor.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have new or worsening symptoms.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2016 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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