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Lichen sclerosus

Lichen sclerosus (LIE-kun skluh-ROW-sus) is an uncommon condition that creates patchy, white skin that's thinner than normal. Lichen sclerosus may affect skin on any part of your body, but most often involves skin of the vulva, foreskin of the penis or skin around the anus.

Anyone can get lichen sclerosus, but postmenopausal women are at highest risk. Left untreated, lichen sclerosus may lead to other complications.

You may not need treatment because sometimes lichen sclerosus improves on its own. If you do need treatment, your doctor can suggest options to return a more normal appearance to your skin and decrease the tendency for scarring.

Symptoms Causes Complications

Lichen sclerosus can affect the skin on any part of your body. Sometimes, no symptoms are present.

When they do occur, lichen sclerosus symptoms may include:

  • Itching (pruritus), which can be severe
  • Discomfort, which is generally greater if lichen sclerosus appears on or around your genital or anal areas
  • Smooth white spots on your skin that may grow into blotchy, wrinkled patches
  • Easy bruising or tearing
  • In severe cases, bleeding, blistering or ulcerated lesions
  • Painful intercourse

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if you have signs and symptoms common to lichen sclerosus. Effective treatments are available to help manage your discomfort and prevent complications.

If you've already been diagnosed with lichen sclerosus, see your doctor every six to 12 months to be checked for any skin changes or treatment side effects.

The exact cause of lichen sclerosus isn't known. However, the condition may be related to a lack of sex hormones in the affected skin or to an overactive immune system. Previous skin damage at a particular site on your skin may increase the likelihood of lichen sclerosus at that location.

Although lichen sclerosus may involve skin around your genitals, it isn't contagious and cannot spread through sexual intercourse.

Lichen sclerosus occurs most often in postmenopausal women, but it also occurs in men and children. In women, lichen sclerosus usually involves the vulva. In boys and men, uncircumcised males are most at risk, because the condition generally affects the foreskin. In children, the signs and symptoms may improve at puberty.

Persistent lichen sclerosus in one location may slightly increase your risk of skin cancer, although this has not yet been definitively proved. For this reason, make sure that you have follow-up examinations every six to 12 months.

Severe lichen sclerosis can make sex extremely painful for women becauseitching and scarring may narrow the vaginal opening. In addition, blistering may create extremely sensitive skin to the point that any pressure on the area is unbearable.

Lichen sclerosis may rarely cause similar complications in uncircumcised men, because it causes tightening and thinning of the foreskin. This can cause problems during an erection or when urinating.

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