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What is your skin trying to tell you? Now summer has arrived, more skin is on show and we're all on the lookout for suspicious moles. But could those other little bumps and rashes also be signs of something more sinister? By Natasha Holt.

Byline: Natasha Holt

CHECKING for changes in moles has become second nature for many of us, with all the worries and warnings over skin cancer.

But little changes in your skin, whether a rash, puckering or new bump, can also be an early sign of other diseases lurking in your body.

And being able to spot the signs sooner rather than later could make a massive difference.

Dr Joanna Gach, consultant dermatologist at Spire Parkway Hospital in Solihull, explains: "The skin is your body's largest organ so it stands to reason that if things aren't quite right on the inside, there will be telltale signs on the outside."

While the majority of skin changes can be eczema or skin infections, which are easily diagnosed and treated, some can be signs of something a lot more sinister.

If they don't disappear after a few days or they get worse, it's always best to see a GP.

Dr Gach says: "Hopefully it will be something harmless that can be treated with medication.

"But often the more dangerous conditions don't present with any pain so it's important to take these things seriously."

So which lumps, bumps, rashes, puckering and marks should you be worried about? And what could they be?

Here, Dr Gach talks you through those other changes we should all be watching out for...

KIN CHANGE: Puckering or dimpling on the breast

It could be... BREAST CANCER

Although we know to look out for lumps in our breasts, many women are unaware that other changes to the skin in this area can also be indicators of cancer.

I would advise women look for any puckering, or dimpling, of the skin on the breasts. Red, raised marks or skin with an orange peel appearance can also be warning signs of breast cancer so anyone who's had these symptoms for more than three weeks, and who doesn't have a history of skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis, should see their GP to get checked.

SKIN CHANGE:

A rash on the tops of the feet and lower legs

It could be... HEPATITIS C

Hepatitis C affects approximately 215,000 people in the UK and is a virus spread through contaminated blood.

It causes flu-like symptoms, stomach pains and one of the signs can be a rash on the lower legs and feet. I must stress that this is very rare, so don't panic if you notice a rash this area.

The rash associated with hepatitis C is painful, purple in colour and can lead to ulcers around the ankles. Hepatitis C can be life-threatening if left untreated so see your GP for a blood test if you are worried.

SKIN CHANGE:

Hardening of the skin

It could be... SCLERODERMA

Scleroderma is a condition caused by the immune system attacking the tissue under the skin and around the internal organs.

There are two types, one that causes the skin to harden and a second, potentially life threatening type, which also affects the internal organs. This is a very rare condition and causes the skin to harden, especially over the hands, arms, feet and face.

The skin loses its elasticity and becomes so hard that you can't pinch it. If you have noticed these symptoms, see your GP.

SKIN CHANGE: Very dry, itchy skin

It could be... AN UNDERACTIVE THYROID

The thyroid gland controls the body's hormones and when this isn't functioning properly it can cause havoc with your skin and hair.

An underactive thyroid will lead to dry, itchy skin that has lost its elasticity and feels almost doughy.

Other symptoms include tiredness, hair loss, thinning of the eyebrows, weight gain, muscle aches and depression.

Thyroid conditions can be treated by your doctor with hormone replacement tablets so mention it if you have any concerns.

SKIN CHANGE: Yellowing of the skin

It could be... JAUNDICE

Jaundice is something we tend to associate with young babies but it can happen to anyone. It occurs when the liver isn't clearing the toxins from the body as it should and allows a substance called bilirubin to build up.

This will cause the skin to take on a very yellow appearance, which can also be seen in the whites of the eyes.

If you notice this, then see your GP as soon as possible who will arrange urine tests and liver function and blood tests to determine the cause.

SKIN CHANGE: Velvety looking brown-grey rash around neck

It could be... CANCER OR DIABETES

As obesity is now a common problem we are seeing this skin complaint, known as acanthosis nigricans, more and more.

We even see it in children. Sufferers will have dark, thickened patches of skin on the back of the neck, armpits or groin area.

They feel dry and rough, similar to velvet.

Acanthosis nigricans mainly affects those people who are overweight and although not a condition in itself, it can be a sign of a more serious problem, such as diabetes or cancer.

SKIN CHANGE: Scaly bumps on knuckles

It could be... CANCER

Raised scaly red bumps on the knuckles can be a sign of dermatomyositis, an inflammatory muscle disease caused by the body's immune system turning on itself.

It can be linked with other autoimmune diseases, such as diabetes or thyroid disease, but in 20% of cases it is an indicator of an internal cancer, such as ovarian cancer. Another sign is a violet-coloured rash on the upper eyelids.

Look out for other indicators, for example unintentional weight loss, a cough, night sweats and generally feeling weak and unwell.

If you experience these symptoms, see your doctor.

SKIN CHANGE: Waxy or yellow bumps

It could be... DIABETES

Diabetes affects every part of the body so skin problems can be the first sign that someone has the condition.

High cholesterol and insulin resistance can lead diabetics to develop firm, yellow, waxy bumps on their skin.

These will be itchy little bumps that form in clusters.

Sometimes they can appear before diabetes is diagnosed but it's important to look out for the more common symptoms of the disease, such as excessive thirst and needing the toilet more often than usual.

SKIN CHANGE: Darkening creases

It could be... ADDISON'S DISEASE

As a dermatologist, I don't see Addison's disease very often - it's a rare disorder of the adrenal glands.

At first, sufferers mostly experience flu-like symptoms such as exhaustion and muscle weakness. But over time, these become more severe and other symptoms include dizziness and cramps.

The disease can also cause people to develop areas of darkened skin, especially in the hand creases, or cause darkening on the inside lips or gums.

Although these symptoms aren't always associated with Addison's disease, if you do have them, see your GP for advice.

I thought my itchy skin was just dry - but I had an underactive thyroid

Emma Stephenson, 40, is a full-time mother of two from Exeter. She discovered the itchy skin she suffered as a teenager was a tell-tale sign she shouldn't have ignored...

"My mum would tease me as a teenager because I'd always smother myself in body lotion. But if I didn't, my skin would feel itchy, dry and uncomfortable.

Then in 2011, after having my first child Lara, I felt exhausted - but I put it down to being a new mum. I'd wake up wishing I could sleep forever and became really forgetful, struggling to remember words.

When Lara was six months old I had a funny turn, where my heart was pounding, I felt sick and my legs were shaking violently. But a doctor blamed low blood sugar due to breastfeeding.

Eventually, I started feeling dizzy, so when Lara was 10 months old my GP tested my thyroid and discovered it was seriously underactive.

It took six months to regulate my hormones with medication but now I feel like a different person. I later learned my itchy skin was a symptom of hypothyroidism. I just wish I'd pushed harder to find out what was causing it."
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 9, 2016
Words:1331
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