Diabetes, also called diabetes mellitus, is a chronic condition that affects your blood sugar level and can cause serious medical problems if left untreated. There are a variety of skin conditions that you can suffer from due to diabetes, some with different treatments. In this article, we will discuss diabetes and skin conditions, including what you need to know about diabetes and red spots on your legs. We will also discuss how to treat and prevent these conditions and inform you of other skin conditions that can happen when you have diabetes.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a group of diseases that affect how your body uses blood sugar, also called glucose. Glucose is vital to your health because it’s an important source of energy for the cells that make up your muscles and tissues and is also your brain’s main source of fuel. Your cells need insulin to process glucose and when it is not available or they become desensitized to it, your blood sugar level rises. Complications of diabetes mellitus can lead to a number of medical problems ranging from cardiovascular disease to high blood pressure and even death.
The three main types of diabetes are type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes. Type 1 diabetes, which was previously called juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, occurs when the body doesn’t produce any insulin. You are typically diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as a child or young adult and need insulin injections or an insulin pump to treat it. Type 2 diabetes, which was previously called adult-onset diabetes or non-insulin-dependent diabetes, occurs when the body produces insulin but is unable to use it effectively. The reason this happens is that your cells develop insulin resistance that hinders their ability to properly process glucose. You typically are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes after the age of 45; however, children have been developing it at increasing rates. Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes. Gestational diabetes occurs only if you are pregnant and have never had diabetes before but have elevated levels of blood sugar during pregnancy due to your placenta making extra hormones. After you give birth, this form of diabetes will eventually go away.
What are the symptoms of diabetes?
The most common symptoms of diabetes are extreme hunger, excessive thirst, and increased urination. When your blood sugar levels are high, your body tries to get rid of the excess glucose by flushing it out of your system through your urine. This can lead to you feeling very thirsty because you’re losing water and other fluids from your body. You feel very hungry due to your cells not getting the energy they need and triggering a response for more food to break down into glucose. These are not the only common symptoms, others include:
- Blurry vision
- Unexplained weight loss even if you are eating more
- Slow healing wounds, especially foot ulcers
- Frequent infections
If you are suffering from these symptoms please talk to your doctor or healthcare provider to determine if it is diabetes.
Can diabetes cause red spots on my legs?
There are several conditions that can cause red spots on your legs and we will detail all of them below.
One of the diabetes-related skin conditions is known as diabetic dermopathy, also called shin spots or pigmented pretibial patches due to the fact that they usually appear on the lower legs and shins. It’s characterized by dull, red to reddish-brown spots that are slightly raised and often have scaly borders. Diabetic dermopathy is thought to be caused by changes in small blood vessels and usually doesn’t cause any symptoms other than the cosmetic change to your skin. In some cases, the spots can become infected or crusty and may itch or hurt.
Necrobiosis lipoidica diabeticorum (NLD)
Necrobiosis lipoidica diabeticorum is another diabetes-related skin condition that is characterized by shiny, yellowish to light brown skin discoloration that is ringed in a dull red or pink. These patches are often raised and can have a waxy or crusted surface. Necrobiosis lipoidica diabeticorum usually appears on the lower legs but can also occur on the thighs, arms, and trunk. It most often affects women who have had diabetes for many years but can also develop in men and children. In some cases, it can lead to ulcers or open sores.
Disseminated granuloma annulare
Disseminated granuloma annulare is a skin condition that is characterized by raised, red, or tan bumps that form rings or clusters. These bumps can be itchy but are not usually painful. Disseminated granuloma annulare most often appears on the trunk, arms, and legs but can also occur on the face, scalp, or ears. It can affect people of all ages but is more common in children and young adults. The cause of disseminated granuloma is unknown.
Allergic reactions can also cause a rash that will produce red spots on your legs. When your body comes into contact with a substance that it is sensitive or allergic to, your body can respond with rashes, hives, swelling, such as leg swelling, that can produce red spots on your skin. If you have diabetes, you may be more likely to develop an allergic reaction to something than someone who does not have diabetes. Allergic reactions can be treated with over-the-counter or prescription medications but talk to your doctor or healthcare provider first.
How do I treat the red spots on my legs?
Your treatment plan will be dependent on what skin condition is causing the red spots on your leg. Treatment for each condition includes:
If you have diabetes dermopathy, your best course of treatment is to keep your blood sugar levels under control. It is rare for diabetic dermopathy to cause an itchy rash, so no treatments need to be applied directly to them. Maintaining good diabetes control can help to prevent the condition from worsening although there is no way to make the existing lesions permanently disappear.
Necrobiosis lipoidica diabeticorum (NLD)
There is no need for treatment if the sores do not break open. If the sores do break open, please talk to your doctor or dermatologist
Disseminated granuloma annulare
There is no need for treatment if the bumps are not itchy or painful. If they are, your doctor may prescribe a topical steroid cream or ointment to help relieve the itchiness and pain.
If you have an allergic reaction, avoid whatever is causing the reaction. If you cannot avoid the allergen, you may need to take over-the-counter or prescription medications such as a topical steroid cream to control the reaction.
Please note that if you have itchy skin you should not scratch your skin due to the risk of infection. If you have diabetes and notice any changes in your skin, it’s important to see a dermatologist or other health care provider so they can properly diagnose and treat the condition.
What other skin conditions are caused by diabetes?
Diabetes can also cause a number of other skin conditions including:
- Diabetic blisters (bullosis diabeticorum): These blisters look like burn blisters, are rare and occur on your extremities
- Acanthosis nigricans: Often this condition is a sign that you have diabetes or insulin resistance and causes a thickening of the skin which can darken in color with the most common locations being in the armpits, groin, under the breasts, and on the back of the neck
- Eruptive xanthomatosis: This condition is characterized by yellow, greasy, raised bumps that contain cholesterol and can occur with diabetes or high levels of triglycerides in your blood and cause itchy skin
- Digital sclerosis: Diabetes can cause thick, waxy skin to tighten around your joints, most commonly seen in the fingers, that can cause your finger joints to hurt
Is there a way to prevent skin problems with diabetes?
The best way to prevent any skin problem, whether you have diabetes or not, is to practice good skincare with a daily skincare routine. A daily skincare routine consists of cleansing your skin daily, using mild soap with warm water. Also, moisturize your skin daily to help keep it hydrated and healthy as dry skin is a common problem for diabetics. Wearing sunscreen can also help to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays. If you have diabetes, it’s important to maintain blood glucose control to help prevent any skin problems from developing or worsening. Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider about the best way to manage your diabetes and improve your quality of life.
Diabetes is a chronic disease that can cause a variety of skin conditions, some of which manifest themselves as red spots on your legs. If you have red spots on your legs and are diabetic, it is most likely due to diabetic dermopathy, necrobiosis lipoidica diabeticorum, disseminated granuloma annulare, or an allergic reaction. Treatment for the symptoms will be dependent on the cause and can range from maintaining your blood sugar level in the correct range to using creams or lotions. To prevent skin problems as a diabetic, monitor your blood glucose level while also adhering to a daily skincare routine. If you have any more questions, please talk to your doctor or health care provider.
References and Sources:
American Academy of Dermatology Association
American Family Physician
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