10 Strange Skin Problems That Could Be a Sign of a Serious Disease

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4. You’ve developed a weird rash

Something benign—such as a new laundry detergent or metal buttons on your pants—can be behind a new rash. Your dermatologist can help you figure out what to avoid and do a patch tets if needed. Tick bites can also be responsible. Five different types of tick diseases cause telltale skin rashes, from the bullseye of Lyme and STARI (southern tick-associated rash illness) to small pink spots dotting wrists, forearms, and ankles that are associated with Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Watch out for such skin changes if you’ve been camping, hiking, or spending time outdoors in known tick areas.

5. You have a weird rash, part II

Starting a new medication always comes with potential reactions. One serious problem: an allergy called “drug reaction with eosinophilia and systemic symptoms” or DRESS syndrome, a potentially life-threatening condition marked by a rash and an inflammation of the liver, heart, and lungs. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology notes that while “almost any drug could cause DRESS,” the ones commonly associated with this are antibiotics, and gout and seizure medication. The Academy also states that this rash can appear two to eight weeks after starting the med. Watch out if you have a rash accompanied by fever or swelling of lymph nodes.

6. You’re so, so itchy

If you have dry skin—especially in the winter months—you may be used to feeling itchy. But when a good moisturizer provides no relief, it could a skin problem that is a sign of a serious disease. Itchiness can be caused by some cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, as well as liver disease and kidney failure. If itching is all over your body, is severe, comes out of nowhere, or is so bad you’re losing sleep because you’re so uncomfortable, talk to your doctor, says Dr. Reynolds. Itchiness with night sweats, fevers, and unexplained weight loss are other red flag symptoms, she says.

7. There’s a new freckle on your face

Early melanomas may appear like a new freckle for the first weeks or months, says Dr. High. But if it’s a malignant form of skin cancer, the spot won’t stay freckle-like for long—it will keep growing. It’s the “E” in the ABCDE’s of skin cancer,  for “evolving,” indicating a mole that changes in characteristics such as size, shape, and color. Suspicious moles need to be checked out by a dermatologist. But don’t stop looking at your skin just because you visited a dermatologist. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends regular at-home skin checks. They encourage you to check your entire body to include your palms, soles, and even between your toes.

8. There are tender red bumps under your skin

While the gut and skin may not seem all that connected, they are. Conditions like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can sometimes affect your skin. Painful red nodules may appear on your legs; they’ll also feel deep in the surface of the skin, explains Dr. Reynolds. The condition is called erythema nodosum and may appear during a flare-up of symptoms, such as persistent diarrhea or bloody stool. Blood in your poop may sound frightening, but it’s one of those health symptoms that can turn out to be harmless.

9. Your skin is sweaty and ruddy

Unless you’re relaxing in a sauna or living the tropics, this may be a sign of an overactive thyroid. In people who have hyperthyroidism, their metabolism is revved up. This can translate to being hot and flushed (particularly when no one else in the room is). Your doctor should question you about other symptoms that could signal thyroid dysfunction, like weight loss or difficulty sleeping.

10. Your lower legs are swollen and red

When someone is suffering from congestive heart failure, their weakened heart struggles to keep the blood moving against the pull of gravity. As a result, the blood can pool in your legs, explains Dr. High. Seeing deep lines after taking off your socks is another sign, he says. That said, congestive heart failure is most likely to affect the elderly; if you’re a young person and have sock lines, your socks just might be too small.

11. There are yellow bumps under your skin

When seen on joints, hands, feet, and glutes, yellow bumps may be fat buildup under the skin, says Dr. High. Called xanthomas, these bumps are a sign that your cholesterol or other blood fats are too high; they can also indicate diabetes, pancreatitis, and even some cancers.

12. Think of the obvious first

Though skin problems can be a sign of a more serious illness, especially when saddled with dry skin or itchiness, don’t jump to a worst-case scenario, says Dr. High. If you’re itchy, first try a moisturizer. If you get hives, take an antihistamine or try a hydrocortisone cream. Then if the problem doesn’t clear up quickly, it may be time to see your doctor.

13. When you should definitely see a doctor

Not every skin change is cause for alarm. But if you have new rashes that don’t go away in a week or two or are accompanied by pain, fevers, puss collection, or chills, or they coincide with other symptoms mentioned, see your doctor, advises Dr. Reynolds.

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