What is Lichen Sclerosus?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Lichen sclerosus is a dermatological condition which primarily affects women after menopause, although younger women, men, and even children can develop lichen sclerosus. This condition is generally benign, and it often clears up on its own, but in particular regions of the body, complications can develop. It's a good idea to seek the advice of a doctor about any skin irregularities, so that the site can be examined and diagnosed.

Lichen sclerosus can be confirmed by a dermatologist.
Lichen sclerosus can be confirmed by a dermatologist.

In lichen sclerosus, shiny white patches develop on the skin, and slowly spread, turning the area bright white and glossy. Then, the skin starts to thin, wrinkle, and become flaky or scabby. Lichen sclerosus is particularly common around the genital area, and it can also cause complications in this region of the body by tightening the skin, potentially causing painful intercourse. Lichen sclerosus can also leave unsightly scarring if it is not treated at an early stage.

Lichen sclerosus is common in the genital area and can cause complications like painful intercourse.
Lichen sclerosus is common in the genital area and can cause complications like painful intercourse.

The cause of this condition is not known. Some researchers suspect that it may be linked with a decline in sex hormones, or a malfunction of the immune system. Many doctors prescribe topical creams with sex hormones, drugs which act on the immune system, or steroids to combat lichen sclerosus, all with varying degrees of success. Use of medication does seem to reduce scarring, although it may take some time and several medications to arrive at the best treatment. Surgery may be offered in some cases as well, depending on the site of the lichen sclerosus.

Someone should seek the advice of a doctor for any skin irregularities.
Someone should seek the advice of a doctor for any skin irregularities.

Lichen sclerosus looks unsightly, but it is not contagious or dangerous. Most people seek treatment for aesthetic reasons, because they dislike the appearance of the white, patchy skin and they want to prevent scarring. Lichen sclerosus can also become itchy or painful, especially if it spreads across a large area, and the discomfort associated with the condition is another reason to seek treatment.

Any changes in your skin can be a sign that something is wrong. Many skin conditions look similar at early stages, but require different treatments, which makes a visit to the dermatologist necessary to ensure that the condition is treated properly. If a skin irregularity develops and spreads or does not resolve within a week, it is time for a visit to the doctor. The doctor will perform a physical examination, and he or she may biopsy the skin for testing to confirm the diagnosis. Once the condition has been diagnosed, treatment options can be discussed.

Tissue removed during a skin biopsy will be checked under a microscope for abnormalities.
Tissue removed during a skin biopsy will be checked under a microscope for abnormalities.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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