When your body’s natural defense system attacks healthy cells in your body, you are suffering from an autoimmune disorder. There are several common autoimmune diseases that affect the skin. These include vitiligo, scleroderma, lupus, psoriasis and vasculitis.
The exact reasons why our immune system becomes confused and starts to attack our own healthy cells is not entirely understood, but there appear to be genetic links where susceptibility to autoimmune disorders runs in families. It is also believed that exposure to certain bacteria, viruses, allergens and toxins can trigger the autoimmune condition. Diet and stress have also been implicated.
Our skin experts at Trillium Creek Dermatology and Surgery Center carry out full assessments of skin conditions and provide a variety of treatments to manage the skin and minimize the visible effects and damage due to autoimmune disorders.
Vitiligo is a pigmentation disorder in which your skin loses melanin, causing white patches to appear that slowly enlarge over time. These symptoms affect men and women alike, and causes may be attributed to emotional stress, illness or skin trauma such as sunburn. Vitiligo can appear from birth but half of all vitiligo cases develop in children and young adults between the ages of 10 and 30 years.
It is estimated that around two per cent of the World’s population suffer from vitiligo. It affects all races equally but is mistakenly associated with black and dark-skinned people simply because the loss of skin pigmentation is more noticeable.
Any part of the body can be affected but areas exposed to the sun tend to be affected first. Vitiligo is commonly seen on the face around the lips and eyes. It can also develop around hair roots on the scalp and turn patches of hair white or grey.
Vitiligo is not contagious and does not have to hold you back in life: even some high-profile celebrities and fashion models have come to embrace their condition as a part of their identity.
Melanin is a natural substance produced to protect your skin from exposure to the sun, so it is important to apply sunscreen or cover areas that are affected by the depigmentation of your skin.
Repigmentation is very slow and treatments may include topical corticosteroids in the form of a cream applied to affected areas, vitamins, narrow-band ultraviolet B (UVB) therapy and oral steroids.
In addition, self-tanning lotions may help conceal imperfections by adding color to depigmented areas. Concealing cosmetics and makeup can also be an effective way to restore a more balanced skin color.
Your Trillium Creek Dermatology skin experts can provide treatments to slow the progression of the disease as well as minimize the visible effects.
Thick areas of skin with a smooth shiny appearance are a defining feature of scleroderma. This is a group of connective tissue disorders that cause a thickening and hardening of the skin (a process known as fibrosis). Blood vessels can also become damaged and the body is unable to repair them. Scleroderma usually starts with a few dry patches of skin on the hands or face that then become thicker and harder. These patches then spread to other areas of the skin.
When scleroderma involves just the skin and soft tissue beneath, it is said to be “localized”. When the connective tissue inside our bodies is also disrupted, the condition is termed “systemic”. This more severe form of the condition upsets the ability of our body’s internal organs to function.
Scleroderma is not contagious or cancerous, but it can be hereditary. There are four main sub-types of scleroderma, ordered in terms of increasing severity of symptoms:
- Morphea – patches of localized scleroderma can appear anywhere on the skin, but commonly show up on the trunk.
- Scleroderma linear – as the name suggests, hardened skin appears in lines, usually on the arms or legs. This localized scleroderma tightens the skin and can restrict movement. In children this tightening can upset long bone growth and needs to be closely watched.
- Limited systemic sclerosis (also known as CREST syndrome) – This usually affects the face, hands, forearm, feet and lower leg. It is often associated with Raynaud’s disease which restricts blood circulation in the fingertips and toes making them feel cold and numb. Internally, the heart and digestive system may also be damaged, causing heartburn and difficulty in swallowing.
- Diffuse scleroderma/systemic sclerosis – this is a more widespread condition upsetting more of the body than the limited systemic form. Lungs, kidneys, muscles and joints can also be damaged. Muscle pain, joint stiffness and fatigue are not uncommon.
Scleroderma is one of the more serious autoimmune disorders, so it is important to consult a skin expert to determine the type and extent of your condition. While there is no cure for scleroderma, the skin experts at Trillium Creek Dermatology and Surgery Center can provide a number of medications to manage the symptoms of the disease.
In addition, Trillium Creek Dermatology and Surgery Center offers the latest in laser treatments to minimize or eliminate the appearance of damaged blood vessels and lesions that are caused by scleroderma.
Primarily affecting women of child-bearing age, lupus is a serious autoimmune disease. It is estimated that 1.5 million people in the US suffer from lupus. When the disease is most active it can affect the whole body, including the skin, joints, kidneys, heart, lungs, blood vessels and brain.
The aggressive form of the condition is known as systemic lupus erythematosus, or SLE (systemic means affecting the whole body). There is a sister condition known as “discoid lupus erythematosus” (DLE) which is more confined to the skin and is so-named because of the coin shaped lesions that form. DLE skin lesions are not usually itchy or painful, but they are more pronounced and severe than the skin lesions seen in SLE and can cause scarring and lasting cosmetic damage.
The “butterfly rash” is characterized by a red flushing or mild rash across the face and gets its name from the shape it forms across the nose and cheeks. This is generally associated with SLE. Discoid lupus lesions are more pronounced and can also appear commonly on the upper back, neck and hands. Facial DLE lesions will often involve the scalp and ears as well.
Raised areas may thicken and become scaly, leading to scarring. The rash is unpredictable. It can last for days or years and it may ease then reappear. Lesions and flare-ups can be aggravated by sunlight, with new rashes appearing on exposed skin.
Although there is no cure for lupus, symptoms can be brought under control with careful medication. Simple lifestyle changes can also help minimize flare-ups, such as getting plenty of sleep, exercising, reducing stress and protecting the skin from ultraviolet rays.
Many treatment options are available to minimize the symptoms during flare ups when your lupus is active. This may include medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), antimalarials, corticosteroids and immuno-suppressant drugs.
Your Trillium Creek Dermatology skin experts will tailor a lupus treatment to your specific needs.
As the name suggests, vasculitis is a serious condition involving inflammation of the blood vessels when the body’s immune system attacks them. Inflammation can be short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic), and in severe cases blood flow can be restricted to such an extent that organ and tissue damage occurs.
There are nearly 20 varieties of vasculitis involving the skin, joints, brain, nerves, intestines, heart, lungs, kidneys and eyes. Cutaneous vasculitis appears on the skin as red or purple spots, usually on the legs and feet. When the lesions become larger, they resemble bruises and can be itchy and painful.
While children and adults can both suffer from vasculitis, the condition generally affects people in late middle-age. It is not contagious and, although there may be a genetic link, it rarely affects multiple family members in the way that a hereditary disease would.
Most of the factors that trigger vasculitis have yet to be determined, partly because there are so many variants of the condition. There is a relationship between certain viral or bacterial infections and vasculitis, and certain medications can precipitate the condition. Medical problems such as blood disorders or malignancy are also suspected. Investigation into your vasculitis therefore needs to be thorough as there may be other illness to consider and treat alongside the vasculitis.
It is worth mentioning a form of vasculitis of the skin which has the appearance of hives, or urticaria, where patches of skin become inflamed and weals form. The condition, appropriately known as “urticarial vasculitis”, is treated in a very different way to hives. It is important to get an accurate diagnosis from your dermatologist so that the correct medication can be prescribed.
Medications may include corticosteroids or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). In addition, many laser treatments and light treatments are available to minimize the appearance of blood vessels and lesions on the skin.
Your Trillium Creek Dermatology skin experts will determine the extent of your vasculitis and formulate a targeted course of treatment.
A medically trained skin expert at Trillium Creek Dermatology and Surgery Center can help you better manage your skin condition and avoid complications.