Skin Symptoms You Should Never Ignore

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  • Most of us have experienced some issues with our skin over the years, from acne to dry skin. But the skin can tell us a lot about our health and, at times, can alert us to potentially serious illnesses, like HIV, cancer, lupus, diabetes and more. Learn about important skin symptoms, what they may indicate, and when it’s time to see a doctor.

  • 1
    Unusual or changing moles
    Woman with mole on back

    Skin cancer is frequently the first disease that comes to mind when we talk about serious skin issues. The good news is skin cancer is often successfully treated if it’s caught in the early stages. That’s why doctors recommend you do a full body skin check once a month to look for new spots or ones that have changed. Skin cancer isn’t always obvious, but contact your doctor if you notice:

    • An irregularly shaped lesion that is brown, red, white or blue/black
    • A mole that is asymmetrical, has changed shape or size, has an irregular border, changes color, or is larger than the size of a pea
    • A lesion that is itchy or painful
    • A flat, crusted lesion
  • 2
    Chronic skin dryness and rashes
    woman outside scratching arm

    While everyone occasionally has dry skin or a temporary rash, chronic occurrence of these symptoms can indicate HIV infection or complications from the virus. If you have HIV, you could develop xerosis (skin dryness), atopic dermatitis (red, itchy rashes), seborrheic dermatitis (red scaly rash on the face and scalp), photodermatitis (rashes from the sun), and other skin conditions. People with HIV are also at higher risk for some types of skin cancer, such as Kapasi sarcoma, which causes red or purple patches not only on your skin, but the mucous membranes too. See your doctor as soon as possible if you notice this.

  • 3
    Butterfly rash
    Close-up of facial rash on cheek

    This rash across the nose and cheeks is a telltale sign of lupus, an autoimmune disease in which your immune system attacks the organs and other body tissues. If you notice this rash, speak with your doctor, especially if you have other lupus symptoms, such as joint pain, photosensitivity (rashes when exposed to the sun), fever, dry eyes, and headaches.

  • 4
    Sores that are slow to heal
    Bandage covering wound

    This can be an indicator or complication of diabetes, resulting from high or fluctuating blood glucose levels. You may also notice fungal infections, as well as tan or brown areas on the neck, under your arms, or inside the creases of your elbows and knees. See your doctor if you notice any of these symptoms so you can be evaluated for diabetes or discuss changes to your diabetes treatment.

  • 5
    Bluish tinge to your skin
    Cropped Image Of Woman Sweating By Blue Background

    If your skin has a bluish or purplish color, it can indicate a problem with circulation, meaning not enough oxygen-rich blood is reaching your skin. This can be the result of a heart or lung disease and should be evaluated by a doctor. If you or anyone else is blue in the face or lips, this is a medical emergency, particularly if it’s accompanied by difficulty breathing or chest pain. Call 911 if you see these sudden symptoms.

  • 6
    Yellow coloring
    Close-up of jaundiced eye

    Jaundice in adults, yellowing of the skin, is most commonly associated with liver disease, such as cirrhosis or hepatitis, and as well as liver damage. This can result from excessive alcohol consumption, gallstones, pancreatic cancer, and some medications, such as overdoses of acetaminophen, as well as penicillin, anabolic steroids, and others. If you notice the whites of your eyes becoming yellow or your skin looking sallow and yellow, speak to your doctor as soon as possible so you can be tested for possible causes.

  • 7
    Dry, itchy plaques
    woman with psoriasis behind ears

    Psoriasis occurs when your body produces too many new skin cells before the older cells have sloughed off, causing raised, red, scaly and itchy patches. It can be mild or severe. But sometimes psoriasis is associated with psoriatic arthritis. Symptoms of psoriatic arthritis include pain in the joints, either on one side only or all over, swelling in the joints, and back and foot pain. If you have psoriasis and begin experiencing unexplained joint or back pain, speak with your doctor to see if it is psoriatic arthritis.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Jun 15
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