In the United States, more than 25 million people are diagnosed with diabetes. About 75 percent of these cases are type II diabetes, which is linked to obesity or being overweight. Researchers predict that the prevalence of diabetes will only escalate, anticipating that 1 in 3 Americans will have diabetes by 2050.
About a third of people with diabetes will develop visible symptoms on the skin. In fact, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), some skin problems can be warning signs of diabetes in people who are undiagnosed. The following are some of the earliest signs.
Bacterial and fungal infections
People who have diabetes tend to get skin infections. These tend to feel hot, swollen, painful and itchy. Bacterial and fungal infections due to diabetes can pop up anywhere on the body, including most commonly between the toes, around the nails, and on the scalp.
People with diabetes might see blisters suddenly appear on their skin, either as one large blister or a group of blisters. Diabetic blisters tend to form on the hands, feet, legs, or forearms and look like the blisters that appear after a serious burn. But unlike the blisters that develop after a burn, these blisters are not painful. The medical names for this condition are bullosis diabetricorum or diabetic bullae.
Diabetic dermopathy is a skin condition that causes spots, lines, and barely visible depressions in the skin. The problem is very common amongst people suffering from diabetes. It usually forms on the shins, but can also appear on the arms, thighs, trunk, or other areas of the body. The spots are often brown and cause little to no symptoms. Many people mistake it for age spots, but diabetic dermopathy usually starts to fade after 18 to 24 months. In some cases, diabetic dermopathy can remain on the skin indefinitely.
Be wary of outbreaks of small, reddish-yellow bumps—a skin condition called eruptive xanthomatosis. When these bumps first appear, they often look like pimples; however, they’ll soon develop an unusual yellowish color. These bumps are usually found on the backside, thighs, the insides of the elbows, or the backs of the knees, but they can form anywhere. Eruptive xanthomatosis is usually tender and itchy.
Necrobiosis lipoidica diabeticorum
Yellow, reddish, or brown patches on the skin can be a sign of high blood sugar. This skin condition—called necrobiosis lipoidica—often begins as small raised bumps that look like they could be pimples. However, as time goes on, the bumps turn into patches of colored, swollen and hard skin. The surrounding skin is often shiny and you can usually see blood vessels.
Dry, itchy skin
If you have diabetes, you’re more likely to have dry, itchy skin due to high levels of blood sugar (glucose). When the blood glucose level is unmanageable, the body attempts to remove excess from the blood by increasing urination. This loss of fluid can make the skin too itchy and dry.
When diabetes affects the skin, it is usually a sign your blood sugar levels are too high. If you notice any of these skin problems, talk to your doctor and get tested for diabetes if you’re not yet diagnosed.