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Lichen sclerosus is a chronic inflammatory skin disorder that can affect men, women, or children, but is most common in women. It usually affects the vulva (the outer genitalia or sex organ) and the anal area. While lichen sclerosus appears predominantly in postmenopausal women, this skin condition is also known to develop on the head of the penis in men. Occasionally, lichen sclerosus is seen on other parts of the body, especially the upper body, breasts, and upper arms.
Lichen sclerosus is considered a rare disorder, although definitive data are not available.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Early in the disease, small white spots appear on the skin. The spots are usually shiny and smooth. Later, the spots grow into bigger patches. The skin on the patches becomes thin and crinkled. Then the skin tears easily, and bright red or purple bruises are common. Sometimes, the skin becomes scarred. If the disease is a mild case, there may be no symptoms.
Other symptoms are:
Doctors can diagnose an advanced case by looking at the skin. However, early or mild disease often requires a biopsy (removal and examination of a small sample of affected skin). Because other diseases of the genitalia can look like lichen sclerosus, a biopsy is advised whenever the appearance of the skin is not typical of lichen sclerosus.
The cause is unknown, although an overactive immune system may play a role. Some people may have a genetic tendency toward the disease, and studies suggest that abnormal hormone levels may also play a role. Lichen sclerosus has also been shown to appear at sites of previous injury or trauma where the skin has already experienced scarring or damage.