Ever wondered about the inexplicable dark patches of skin under your arms or around your neck? This is a common problem that affects both men and women. Dark patchy skin around the neck, underarms, knuckles and other areas is a fairly common problem that often progresses to severe darkening in many cases. A common misconception is that this dark, patchy skin is a result of dirt accumulating on our body. Many people try to combat this with vigorous and sometimes harsh cleaning, without realising that scrubbing only worsens the condition. Wearing imitation jewellery, friction from a stiff collar and infection are among the many assumptions about the cause of this condition. In actuality, the cause is a deep-rooted condition that doctors refer to as Acanthosis Nigricans.
Acanthosis Nigricans, or the dark patchy skin on the neck, underarms, groin and knuckles, is caused by extra skin cells in these areas that increase pigmentation, thus making the skin appear darker.
There are several reasons for the presence of excessive skin cells. The most common cause is due to hormonal imbalance, especially of the hormone insulin that regulates blood glucose levels.
When insulin fails in its primary function of lowering blood glucose level efficiently, the body produces it in excess. The increased insulin interacts with skin cells, especially those in body folds, causing them to multiply, thereby making the skin look darker. Other reasons for excessive skin cells could be genetics, drug intake, or in rare cases, cancer.
What is Acanthosis Nigricans?
A sedentary lifestyle, excessive consumption of unhealthy, high-carb junk food, lack of exercise and obesity are all factors that could trigger this condition. Several health-related issues such as diabetes, hyperthyroidism and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) could also cause Acanthosis Nigricans.
It isn’t always necessary that someone with Acanthosis Nigricans will be obese, diabetic or have high blood glucose levels.
However, Acanthosis Nigricans is a warning sign indicating the need for a health check-up at the earliest. While this condition is not contagious, everyone is susceptible to it. Early diagnosis along with a healthy lifestyle, diet, medication and regular exercise can lead to a complete cure.
There is a widespread lack of awareness about the problem and the fact is that changing one’s lifestyle is the best way to contain this condition. People continue to associate it with dirt on the skin, and therefore it doesn’t occur to them that seeing a skin doctor for timely treatment could provide a permanent solution. The method and duration of treatment may vary from person to person, but educating people about the condition, encouraging them to visit a dermatologist and advocating a healthy lifestyle can all go a long way in preventing this situation from worsening.
We often tend to ignore the help available at hand, which is unfortunate because dermatologists can in fact, identify if these dark patches are indeed Acanthosis Nigricans or just hyper-pigmentation.
The worst case scenario here is that if neglected, it could ultimately lead to diabetes, which is an irreversible disease.
Indifference to maintaining our health is common and a cause for concern. We tend to neglect our skin and don’t give it the same importance as other organs.
We don’t have regular dermatological check-ups. But the thing to remember is that the skin is the largest organ of our bodies and deserves the same attention and care from medical experts that is accorded to other parts of the body. Seeing a dermatologist on a regular basis should be part of everyone’s regular health regimen.
Prevention or early treatment is the best cure and each of us should develop awareness about our bodies. Opportune medical intervention and a moderate lifestyle can go a long way in helping us get healthier.