The skin is the body’s biggest organ, but when people with diabetes think about the complications they might face, skin problems don’t always come to mind. In fact, high blood glucose and the complications it can lead to are associated with a number of skin problems, some of which can become serious if not attended to promptly.
The good news is that keeping blood glucose levels in target range and following a thorough self-care regimen can prevent many skin conditions, help you to identify others early, when they’re most easily treated, and keep you looking and feeling your best. Take this quiz to find out how much you know about how diabetes can affect your skin and what warning signs to look for. (You’ll find answers later in this article.)
1. People with diabetes are more likely to develop which of the following skin conditions? (More than one answer may be correct.)
A. Fungal diseases, such as athlete’s foot.
B. Candida (yeast) infections.
C. Waxy, scaly, or thickened skin.
2. Which of the following diabetes complications can affect the skin? (More than one answer may be correct.)
C. Peripheral vascular disease.
D. High blood pressure.
3. Neuropathy can cause which of the following skin problems in people with diabetes? (More than one answer may be correct.)
A. Decreased sensation.
B. Abnormal sweating.
C. Dry skin.
4. Which of the following skin conditions can be a result of long-term high blood glucose? (More than one answer may be correct.)
A. Diabetic dermopathy.
C. Bacterial infections.
D. Acanthosis nigricans.
5. Which of the following are good ways to prevent skin problems? (More than one answer may be correct.)
A. Bathing or showering regularly.
B. Avoiding skin-care products that contain additives like dyes or fragrances.
C. Keeping blood glucose levels in target range.
D. Maintaining a balanced diet.
1. A, B, C, and D. Fungal diseases such as ringworm can affect the feet (athlete’s foot), groin (jock itch), scalp, or anywhere else on the body. Both fungus and yeast live on the skin under normal circumstances, but they thrive in moist, warm environments and feed on sugar, so when blood glucose is high, they are more likely to grow out of control and cause problems. Yeast is found in skin folds, including those in the underarms, stomach, corners of the mouth, groin, and vagina, and under the foreskin (if uncircumcised) or breasts. It’s important to examine all the “nooks and crannies” of your body for redness, flakiness, whitish material, or foul odor and to seek treatment for these so that a yeast infection does not progress into the blood or body.
Waxy or thickened skin is most common on the lower extremities. Swelling (or fluid retention) in the skin can cause red blood cells to leak out of damaged blood vessels, resulting in a condition called stasis dermatitis. Untreated, the skin can become fibrotic, or scar-like — permanently thicker, waxy, scaly, and discolored. A rarer condition, called scleredema, can also cause these types of skin changes on the neck, upper back, and hands. The causes of scleredema are not well understood, but tight blood glucose control may prevent or improve the condition.
Impetigo is a bacterial infection that is also more common in people with diabetes. It can be found anywhere on the body but is most commonly seen on the face around a mild scrape or cut.