Acanthosis nigricans: Diagnosis, treatment, and outcome

How do dermatologists diagnose acanthosis nigricans?

A dermatologist can diagnose acanthosis nigricans (AN) by looking at your skin. If your dermatologist diagnoses you with AN, you may need a blood test and other medical tests. These tests can help find out if you have another medical condition. AN is more common in people who have diabetes. Sometimes, AN can be a warning sign of pre-diabetes, thyroid disease, and other conditions.

How do dermatologists treat acanthosis nigricans?

Many people see their skin clear when they get treatment for the condition that is causing AN. If you have pre-diabetes, getting that under control often helps to fade the dark patches on your skin. If testing finds a problem with your thyroid or adrenal glands, treating that condition can clear your skin.

Sometimes, a person develops AN but does not have a related medical condition. Sometimes treating the related disease does not completely clear the skin. It is not necessary to treat AN. If a patient wants clearer skin, a dermatologist can treat the skin.

Treatment for AN includes the following:
  • Lighten skin color: Prescription creams, ointments, and gels.
  • Reduce skin thickness: Laser treatments.
  • Decrease odor and discomfort: Antibiotics you apply to the skin and antibacterial soaps.
  • Help clear the skin: Retinoids (in pill form).
None of these treatments is specifically designed to treat AN. Dermatologists have found, however, that these can help. Sometimes, AN is difficult to treat.

Outcome

If you have AN, it is essential to find out whether another disease is causing it. Finding and treating an undiagnosed disease may clear (or partially clear) your skin. If a disease is not causing your AN or you do not see the results you want from treating a related disease, a dermatologist can treat your skin.

Learn more about acanthosis nigricans:

References:

Habif TR, Campbell JL, Chapman MS, et al. “Acanthosis nigricans.” Dermatology DDxDeck. Mosby. 2006.

Hermanns-Le T, Scheen A, Pierard GE. “Acanthosis Nigricans Associated with Insulin Resistance.” Am J Clin Derm. 2004;5(3):199-203.

Kapoor S. “Diagnosis and treatment of acanthosis nigricans.” Skinmed. 2010 May-Jun;8(3):161-4; quiz 165.

Sinha S, Schwartz RA. “Juvenile acanthosis nigricans.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2007;57:502-8.

Yosipovitch G, DeVore A, Dawn A. “Obesity and the skin: Skin physiology and skin manifestations of obesity.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2007;56:901-16.

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