If You Notice This on Your Legs, Get Checked for Diabetes Now, Experts Say
This surprising symptom occurs in over half of diabetes patients.
Diabetes is a serious condition that affects your blood sugar and metabolism. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in three Americans is currently living with pre-diabetes—meaning they're on the cusp of developing a full-blown chronic condition.
This is particularly troubling given that most people don't notice any signs of high blood sugar until they've already been living with diabetes for several years. "When we diagnose someone, we assume they have probably already had diabetes for about five years," endocrinologist Kevin Pantalone, DO, explains via The Cleveland Clinic. It is estimated that one in four diabetes patients are unaware that they have the condition.
That's exactly why it's so essential to recognize the symptoms of diabetes—including those that are frequently overlooked. In particular, experts are now sounding the alarm about one little-known skin symptom that affects roughly half of diabetes patients. Read on to find out what to look out for, and what to do if you notice it.
Having small, brown spots or lesions on your shins may indicate diabetes.
A range of skin symptoms can suggest a diabetes diagnosis, and experts advise looking out for one in particular: diabetic dermopathy. You may recognize this symptom by its telltale pink, red, tan, or brown spots on your shins—though they can also appear on the thighs, sides of feet, or forearms.
According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), diabetic dermopathy can sometimes be mistaken for age spots, typically presenting as circular or oval lesions affecting one or both of the legs. In some cases, the patches may appear scaly, and when the lesions have persisted over time, they may become slightly indented in the skin.
Blood vessel damage can be a common symptom of diabetes.
Experts say that the lesions associated with diabetic dermopathy are the result of damaged small blood vessels in the legs, though other factors can compound the problem.
"Although the exact mechanism of occurrence is unknown, it may be related to impaired wound healing due to decreased blood flow, local thermal trauma or local subcutaneous nerve degeneration," explains a 2020 study published in the medical journal Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome, and Obesity: Targets and Therapy.
Roughly half of diabetics experience this symptom.
Skin conditions are common in those with diabetes, and diabetic dermopathy is especially prevalent. It is estimated that up to 55 percent of diabetics develop spots on their shins, according to the ADA. Experts note that the lesions appear most often in patients whose diabetes has gone untreated for long periods of time. This means that if you present with the symptom, chances are your diabetes has already progressed significantly—an unfortunately common occurrence.
"Diabetes is a relatively silent disease," William Jordan, MD, professor of surgery and chief of the Division of Vascular Surgery and Endovascular Therapy at Emory University School of Medicine tells the Society of Vascular Surgery. "You don't notice it until complications start, but then it can lead to kidney failure, peripheral artery disease, blindness, and other problems so serious they can eventually kill."
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If you notice this symptom, it's time to see a doctor.
When it comes to this condition, there is some good news: the lesions themselves pose no significant risk to your health. They shouldn't cause any itching, burning, bleeding, or pain. "Dermopathy is harmless and doesn't need to be treated," notes the ADA.
However, for those looking for cosmetic improvements, studies have found that certain ointments may improve the appearance of diabetic dermopathy. "Modified collagen and high glycerine-based lotion have shown marked improvement in skin color changes due to diabetic dermopathy," notes one recent report.
Beyond that, experts say the best course of action is to try to control your blood sugar levels. Maintain a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and speak with your doctor about whether medication or other treatment would be right for you.