What autoimmune diseases affect the skin? These are the most common autoimmune diseases that may cause rashes on your skin:
- Sjogren’s syndrome
- Hypothyroidism & myxedema
- Celiac disease
- Lichen planus
- Behçet’s disease
An autoimmune disease occurs when your body’s immune system attacks healthy cells within the body. This dysfunctional immune response may lead to various symptoms, like hair loss, skin rash, or even joint pain.
More than 20 million Americans suffer from autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
Why do autoimmune conditions cause a rash? Autoimmune conditions may cause a rash because they trigger inflammation in skin cells. These diseases are often characterized by chronic inflammation in places from your internal organs to your skin, and everywhere in between.
What do autoimmune rashes look like? Autoimmune rashes look different depending on which autoimmune condition is causing the skin rash.
For example, cutaneous lupus may cause a scaly red patch that does not hurt or itch. Scalp psoriasis may cause plaque buildup that results in hair loss. Lichen planus may cause purplish, itchy, flat bumps on your skin.
Learn more about the autoimmune conditions that may cause skin rashes. Read below for an easy-to-understand guide to autoimmune rashes.
Two-thirds of lupus patients will develop a skin condition. Skin disease in lupus may present as rashes or sores and lesions.
Up to 70% of lupus cases are worsened by sun exposure or extended time under fluorescent lights. Many lupus-related rashes will appear in sun-exposed areas of the skin.
Cutaneous lupus refers to a form of lupus that only affects the skin. (When people say “lupus”, they’re usually talking about systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), which is different from cutaneous lupus.) You can have multiple forms of lupus or only one form.
The 3 types of cutaneous lupus:
- Acute cutaneous lupus often causes a butterfly rash (AKA malar rash) on your cheeks. This should not lead to scarring. Not only will this area be sensitive to sunlight, it will look like a sunburn.
- Subacute cutaneous lupus also occurs mostly on sun-exposed areas of your skin. The affected areas should not scar or itch. However, the affected areas may become discolored and scaly.
- Chronic cutaneous lupus is sometimes known as discoid lupus, though “discoid” is only the most common form of chronic cutaneous lupus. Discoid lupus is very sensitive to sunlight and even fluorescent light, which produces small amounts of ultraviolet radiation. Discoid lupus may eventually lead to discoloration and scarring, though typically discoid lesions still do not itch or hurt. Discoid lesions on the head can cause hair to fall out permanently.
Neonatal lupus is a very rare condition that affects infants of mothers who have some form of lupus. At birth, the infant may exhibit a skin rash, as well as low blood cell count, liver problems, or a slow heartbeat.
Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease that can cause dry eyes and dry mouth. Affecting mostly women over 40, Sjögren’s syndrome affects up to 3 million Americans.
Individuals with Sjögren’s may develop a skin rash.
Sjögren’s syndrome may lead to the following skin problems:
- Dry, rough skin (AKA xerosis)
- Blood spots on your legs (AKA purpura), due to blood vessel inflammation (AKA vasculitis)
- Purple-to-red skin rash that does not lighten under pressure
- Red, ring-shaped skin lesions around a pale center (AKA annular erythema)
If you experience purpura or annular erythema, schedule a visit with your doctor or dermatologist right away.
Although Sjögren’s syndrome does not seem to reduce life expectancy, it can reduce your quality of life. For instance, if Sjögren’s causes dry mouth, you may develop gum disease and cavities, which may drastically reduce your quality of life.
Dermatomyositis is a very rare autoimmune disorder that affects a few thousand Americans, including juveniles. Common symptoms include:
- Muscle weakness
- Trouble swallowing (AKA dysphagia)
- Difficulty talking
- Red or purple skin rash on a sun-exposed area
- Calcium deposits underneath your skin (AKA calcinosis)
- Inflammation around your fingernails
Dermatomyositis-related skin rashes most often occur in these 8 parts of the body:
- Upper chest
Individuals who experience skin rash but not muscle weakness likely suffer from amyopathic dermatomyositis, also called “dermatomyositis sine myositis”.
Psoriasis is a common autoimmune disorder. The most common symptom of psoriasis is a scaly skin rash. These skin problems may occur anywhere on the body, but psoriasis most commonly affects the elbows, knees, lower back, and scalp.
Psoriasis may be itchy and cause pain. Make sure you do not scratch or itch the psoriasis rash, which can lead to bleeding and infection.
7 types of psoriasis:
- Plaque psoriasis is the most common type of psoriasis skin rash. Small red bumps form, then become larger and scaly. Up to 90% of psoriasis patients experience this type of rash. 15% of people with plaque psoriasis develop psoriatic arthritis.
- Nail psoriasis leads to pits in fingernails and toenails, and may result in loss of nails.
- Scalp psoriasis forms flakes that look like dandruff and possibly hair loss.
- Inverse psoriasis (AKA intertriginous psoriasis) occurs in the skin folds of individuals with psoriasis. Overweight individuals are particularly vulnerable to this form of psoriasis.
- Pustular psoriasis causes pus-filled bumps, usually on the feet and hands. These bumps may dry and get brown and scaly.
- Guttate psoriasis forms little red spots all over your skin, after an infection.
- Erythrodermic psoriasis is a rare, life-threatening type of psoriasis. This includes a large patch of red skin, itching, and severe pain. This may be caused by intense sunburn, certain medications, or untreated psoriasis.
Eczema is an itchy skin condition. Children are at a higher risk of getting eczema than adults. Though eczema often goes away after puberty, it can persist into adulthood.
The 2 basic types of eczema are:
- Atopic dermatitis: This is the most common form of eczema. Whether autoimmune or genetic, atopic dermatitis triggers a skin rash when the skin’s natural defenses are weakened. Many people experience atopic dermatitis, asthma, and hay fever together.
- Contact dermatitis: This is an allergic reaction (or exposure to a chemical irritant), leading to an itchy skin rash. Contact dermatitis may also result in fluid-filled blisters or scaly patches.
Eczema can cause skin problems all over your body, especially on:
- The back of the neck
Hypothyroidism & Myxedema
Severe, untreated hypothyroidism may lead to myxedema, which can mean “severely advanced hypothyroidism” or refer to skin problems related to severely advanced hypothyroidism.
Myxedema leads to skin changes, though these may not technically be considered rashes. Myxedema may result in swelling and thickening of your skin.
Skin changes related to myxedema are most common:
- On your lower legs
- On the face
- On your tongue
However, these changes can occur anywhere on your body.
Severe hypothyroidism may also trigger these 9 symptoms:
- Brittle hair
- Cold sensitivity
- Weight gain
- Low heart rate
- Low blood pressure
Myxedema and severe hypothyroidism require immediate treatment and management. “Myxedema crisis” is when the body no longer tolerates the severe hypothyroidism symptoms. Your body starts to shut down. Myxedema crisis may result in coma, seizures, and death.
Call your doctor or emergency services immediately if you believe you’re having a myxedema crisis.
If you think you may have hypothyroidism, schedule a consult at PrimeHealth in Denver, Colorado. 90% of hypothyroidism cases are autoimmunity-related. Click here to learn how we treat hypothyroidism differently than other doctors.
It’s estimated that almost 1% of Americans suffer from celiac disease. Although celiac disease most frequently triggers gastrointestinal distress, it may also trigger an autoimmune rash.
Celiac disease occurs when gluten causes excessive gut inflammation, which may cause the following symptoms:
- Stomach growling
- Skin rash
Celiac disease may result in “dermatitis herpetiformis”, an itchy, blistering rash on your skin. This usually appears on the elbows, knees, or buttocks.
Surprisingly, fewer than 10% of individuals with celiac experience both skin problems and the more common digestive symptoms.
Also known as systemic sclerosis, scleroderma is a condition in which your immune system mistakenly attacks your own healthy tissues, namely, the skin.
Scleroderma also affects the following:
- Blood vessels
- Digestive system
When you have scleroderma, your skin changes in appearance and feel due to increased collagen production. It may become shiny and thicker.
Morphea is sometimes synonymous with scleroderma, but morphea is actually a severe type of scleroderma. Morphea specifically refers to oval-shaped areas of thick, red skin.
Risk factors for scleroderma include:
- Female gender
- African-American or Native American heritage
- Exposure to silica dust
- Certain chemotherapy drugs
Oral lichen planus is an autoimmune disease that may trigger swelling and irritation on your skin, scalp, nails, genitals, and mucous membranes.
Lichen planus typically causes purple, itchy, flat bumps on the skin. It may also result in lacy-white lesions in the mouth.
Behçet’s disease is a very rare autoimmune disorder that leads to blood vessel inflammation (vasculitis).
Behçet’s disease symptoms include:
- Skin rashes/lesions
- Mouth sores
- Eye inflammation
- Genital sores
Autoimmune Blistering Diseases
We’ve been talking a lot about skin rashes. But some autoimmune conditions can cause skin blistering, too.
Also known as autoimmune bullous diseases, here are the most common autoimmune diseases that can cause blistering:
- Epidermolysis bullosa acquisita
- IgA-mediated bullous dermatoses
- Ocular cicatricial pemphigoid
- Bullous pemphigoid
Testing for Autoimmune Disease
No single test is meant for all autoimmune disease. But there are several blood tests that can help your healthcare provider determine if you have an autoimmune disease.
Here are 4 common diagnostic tests for autoimmune disease:
- Antinuclear Antibody (ANA)
- C-Reactive Protein (CRP)
- Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR)
How do you treat an autoimmune rash? The best way to treat autoimmune rash (and autoimmune disorders in general) is to identify and treat the underlying cause. There are many possible causes of autoimmunity.
Because there are multiple potential causes, conventional doctors often say autoimmune disorders are incurable. Then, they focus on treating the symptoms with anti-inflammatory drugs and other medications that often trigger adverse side effects and may lead to flare-ups.
Integrative medicine and functional medicine doctors are more equipped to diagnose and treat the underlying cause of autoimmune disease. Conventional doctors typically manage symptoms, instead of addressing the underlying cause.
Click here today to schedule a free phone consultation with us. We have successfully treated many patients with autoimmune rashes. Here at PrimeHealth, we empower patients to take an active role in their whole-person health.
— Medically reviewed by Soyona Rafatjah, MD. on October 29, 2020
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