11 Diabetic Skin Complications

Diabetes is a notorious metabolic disorder that has several manifestations. It targets different body parts, and skin is one of them. According to the American Diabetes Association, roughly 33 percent of the entire diabetic population has or is currently living with skin complications induced by diabetes.

Complications Diabetic Skin

An impeded flow of blood and lowered immunity form the fundamental changes which make diabetics prone to various skin ailments (as compared to non-diabetics).

This comprehensive article covers the possible skin conditions that may stem from diabetes so that you are able to spot them at the earliest. Early detection and prompt treatment prevent many skin problems from getting out of control.

Diabetic Skin Complications You Should Be Aware Of


In majority cases of diabetes, itchy skin is a common complication. In fact, itchy skin may be one of the initial clinical signs of diabetes. If you are a diabetic with itchy skin, it could be due to any of the listed causes. Skin dryness, sluggish blood circulation or development of a yeast infection form some of the prominent causes responsible for itchy skin.

Damage to the nerves as a result of diabetes may negatively affect the working of the sweat glands, leading to dry skin, mainly on the lower legs or feet. This problem is fortunately easy to control via daily moisturization of the skin, proper use of sunscreen protection and by drinking adequate amounts of water that allow the skin to stay moist for long.

Fungal Infections

Individuals dealing with diabetes are highly vulnerable to attacks caused by fungal species, especially those initiated by Candida Albicans. The yeast like fungal skin infection results in an inflamed, itchy rash, usually encircled by small blisters or scales.

Such infections are found most commonly in moist areas of the body; for example, the small area between toes or fingers, in the vaginal, groin or armpit area. Other common fungal problems associated with diabetes cover Athlete’s foot, ringworm and jock itch.

Bacterial Infections

There are a variety of bacterial infections that can be repeatedly seen in patients with diabetes. Some of them take up the form of boils, nail infection, carbuncles or folliculitis (infection involving the hair follicles). The affected skin tissue turns inflamed, painful and has an elevated temperature. Of all the bacterial strains, Staphylococcus is the main culprit behind the development of many skin infections. Treatment involves administration of antibiotics and blood sugar control.

Acanthosis Nigricans

Acanthosis nigricans is most frequently associated with insulin resistance (type 2 diabetes), resulting in an escalated amount of insulin in the blood circulation. This kind of insulin fall over in the skin leads to specific changes. The affected skin becomes hyper pigmented (it turns dark), hyperplastic (that is, it begins to show incremental growth), and is thick and velvet-like in texture. This type of skin condition mostly affects those who are overweight or diagnosed with diabetes.

Mostly, the creases and folds in the body, as seen in the elbows, knees, armpits, under the breast etc, show such changes. This type of diabetic skin complication does not resolve entirely, but losing excess weight certainly improves the condition.

Necrobiosis Lipoidica Diabeticorum

Necrobiosis lipoidica diabeticorum is a rare diabetic complication (affects roughly 0.3% of diabetics) which has a strong predilection for adult women. This necrotizing type of skin condition is marked by irregularly formed hard lesions which are raised above the skin surface.

Pathologic degenerative changes that take place in collagen and fat reserves below the skin result in this inflammatory skin disorder. The sites where necrobiosis lipoidica diabeticorum is usually seen range from legs, hands, trunk or upper arms. The tender skin is prone to ulceration on slightest of trauma. Medical attention is needed in case the skin sore breaks open.

Digital Sclerosis

Almost 30 percent of people suffering from Type 1 diabetes experience digital sclerosis. This particular skin complication is characterized by thick, tight skin on the dorsal surface of both hands and results due to raised levels of blood glucose. Other than the hands, joints such as those of the knees or elbows are also targeted, resulting in limited movement of the digits or joints. Rarely, the skin of the forehead is affected too.

If the level of blood sugar is kept under control, this condition may cure altogether. You may also use specific lotions prescribed by the doctor for softening the skin texture.

Bullosis Diabeticorum

Bullosis diabeticorum, also known as diabetic blister is an infrequent skin condition wherein an individual with diabetes may experience blister formation. Such blisters typically surface on the feet, legs, arms (extending below the elbow to the wrist), hands or dorsal aspect of fingers. These painless skin blisters closely resemble blisters caused by sun burn. The risk of diabetic blister is more in case of diabetic neuropathy.

The good news is that such blisters subside on their own in a matter of few weeks (2-3 weeks). The sole mode of treatment for diabetic blister is to bring the blood sugar within normal limits.

Eruptive Xanthomatosis

This skin condition is a consequence of inaptly controlled blood sugar level. Increase in the level of triglycerides also results in the same complication. The common sites affected by eruptive xanthomatosis include the buttocks, arms or even the facial region.

It appears as a yellow coloured, small sized bump (not more than the size of a pea) and is lined by an erythematous halo. Unlike Necrobiosis Lipoidica Diabeticorum, Eruptive xanthomatosis affects young males who have both, abnormally high triglycerides, as well as cholesterol levels.

Disseminated Granuloma Annulare

In Disseminated Granuloma Annulare, the diabetic sufferer notices formation of distinct elevated areas on the skin, with an arch or ring form. It is essentially a red or skin coloured rash which targets those parts of the body which are farther away from the trunk. However, this type of rash is easy to handle with certain medicines (mostly a steroid for topical application).

Diabetic Dermopathy

Diabetes is a condition that may cause alterations in small blood vessels. Such alterations may lead to skin problems, termed as diabetic dermopathy or skin spots. This common skin trouble takes the appearance of brown coloured, scaly patches with a circular shape. Mostly noticed in the front aspect of lower legs, diabetic dermopathy remains asymptomatic. As a result, it does not necessitate any medical treatment.


Atherosclerosis refers to arterial thickening that may result in skin changes (mainly the skin on legs). Even diabetics of young age have a predisposition for atherosclerosis. As atherosclerotic changes occur skin begins changing and takes up a shiny, fragile look.

Toes and feet are cold to touch, and the thin skin may discolour too. As the blood supply to the leg muscles diminishes, in case of any injury or infection, the healing process remains sluggish.

Diabetes coupled with neuropathy results in the leg and foot injuries which are not noticed by the patient due to lack of pressure or temperature sensation. In such cases, atherosclerosis makes the situation worse.

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