Diabetes is one of the most significant types of chronic conditions when it comes to affecting a wide range of organs and systems within the body. The human skin, which is essentially the organ providing the protective covering for the body, can definitely be affected by diabetes. In fact the skin is responsible for protection as well as:
- Storage of lipids and water
- Absorption of oxygen to support the outer skin layers
- Heat regulation for the body
- Water resistance
- Barrier to infection and disease
In addition the skin also serves as a barometer of the overall health of the body. Most individuals with diabetes have some problems with infections of the skin which can become more pronounced when there are concurrent medical issues or when blood sugar levels are not effectively controlled.
Dermopathy involves a change in the blood vessels that are located just under the surface of the skin. The result is a slight to heavy brown discoloration that often seems to start out as freckle or age spot. They are most common on the front parts of the legs and typically are oval to circular in shape. The surface of the skin may flake and appear scaly. The condition cannot be reversed but is also not serious and usually no treatment is required.
There is a more serious condition known as Necrobiosis Lipoidica Diabeticorum that can rarely occur in adult women. It starts out looking the same as dermopathy but will evolve into larger, deeper red raised spots on the skin. A purplish-violet border is typically noted and, if the sores open, immediate treatment is required to prevent infections.
Like dermopathy, atherosclerosis is a condition of the blood vessels in the legs. The blood vessels become smaller in size, decreasing the blood flow to the lower legs and the feet. The surface of the skin does not receive as much blood and becomes thinner, shiny in appearance and cool to the touch. This is more pronounced on the lower legs. The muscles of the calf may become stiff and sore with any type of routine exercise including walking.
The toes and feet become very prone to slow healing lesions and wounds due to decreased blood circulation. Neuropathy or lack of feeling in the feet and lower legs is often occurs with atherosclerosis, which may prevent diabetics from feeling pain or discomfort associated with wounds and lesions on the feet.
This condition is most commonly seen on the lower part of the body from the buttocks through to the ankles. It can also occur on the back parts of the wrists and hands and is much more commonly found with men under the age of 30 that have Type 1 diabetes. It is characterized by bumps about the size of a pencil erasure that form under the skin. They often have a yellowish color and can be surrounded by a red ring of inflamed looking tissue that may be very itchy. Controlling blood sugar levels will result in the eruptions subsiding and the symptoms disappearing.
More correctly known as Bullosis Diabeticorum, these are true blisters that pop up over fingers, toes, hands and feet. Less commonly they are also found on the lower legs and up the arms to the elbow. These blisters do not burst or seep and tend to be painless even if they become quite large. Treatment includes topical applications for any possible infection if the blister is scratched open as well as management of blood sugar levels.
As with many diabetic health issues blood sugar regulation and regular doctor's check-ups are essential in preventing the skin conditions from becoming serious or problematic.