If You Notice This On Your Fingers, Get Checked for Diabetes Now, Experts Say
Skin conditions like this one are often among the first symptoms.
Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects your blood sugar and metabolism—and it can have a serious impact on your overall health. If that doesn't come as news, you may still be surprised to learn just how common this life-altering condition is: one in 10 Americans is currently living with a diabetes diagnosis, and a shocking one in three has pre-diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
While there is currently no cure for diabetes, it is possible to manage your symptoms or even go into remission through a combination of medication and lifestyle intervention. However, the key is to start early at the first sign of symptoms. Among those early red flags is a skin condition that experts say you may notice on your fingers. Read on to find out what to look out for and how to reduce your risk of future complications.
If the skin on your fingers thickens, becomes tight, or appears waxy, get checked for diabetes.
According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), roughly one-third of people with type 1 diabetes develop a skin condition known as digital sclerosis. The condition is notable for causing "tight, thick, waxy skin" on the backs of patients' hands, as well as occasionally causing thickened skin on patients' foreheads.
Besides changes in skin texture, many individuals with digital sclerosis experience stiffness in their joints. "In rare cases, the skin over the knees, ankles, or elbows also thickens, making it difficult to straighten your leg, point your foot, or bend your arm," notes the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD). "Wherever it appears, the thickened skin often has the texture of an orange peel."
The condition may be related to a potentially serious reduction in blood flow.
Though the exact cause of digital sclerosis is unknown, experts say that it's likely caused by damaged blood vessels and nerves, which reduce blood flow to the extremities and deprive tissues of oxygen.
"Diabetes patients have very high sugar levels in their bloodstream, which may damage the blood vessels beneath their skin," Daniel Boyer, MD, a practicing doctor of medicine and researcher with Farr Institute, tells Best Life. "The damaged blood vessels may not supply enough oxygen and nutrients to the skin due to resulting poor blood circulation. This may interfere with the white blood cells' ability to fight infections and also kills or hampers the development and growth of collagen tissues," Boyer adds.
You may also notice a similar rash on your neck, back, shoulders, or face.
For those with digital sclerosis, it's not uncommon to develop a rash associated with the condition known as scleredema adultorum of Bushke, according to the Cleveland Clinic. With the same hallmark "tightness, thickening, and hardening" found in digital sclerosis, scleredema is typically found on the back, neck, shoulders, and face.
This secondary rash occurs when deposits of collagen and aminoglycans form in the skin, according to a study published in the medical journal Diabetes & Metabolism. "Consequences could be a decrease in motility of the shoulders and an impairment of respiratory function," as well as sleep apnea, the study's researchers warn.
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Skin conditions are often among the first symptoms of diabetes.
As the ADA points out, checking for changes in your skin may help you identify diabetes in the earliest stages of the disease.
And, if you notice signs of digital sclerosis, there's good reason to address it as soon as possible. "Sclerosis is a risk factor for other complicated diabetic conditions, like diabetic retinopathy and nephropathy," which affect the eyes and kidneys, respectively, says Boyer. However, Boyer notes that early intervention can reduce your risk of developing either condition.
While there is no specific treatment for digital sclerosis, maintaining healthy blood sugar levels through regular exercise and a healthy diet may lead to improvements in your condition, Boyer says. "However, if sclerosis results in the development of bacterial infections on the skin, then your doctor may prescribe certain antibiotics to improve your symptoms," he adds. Additionally, some patients find relief from their joint stiffness with the help of physical therapy. If you suspect that you may have digital sclerosis, consult a medical professional as soon as possible.