Diabetic dermopathy is a skin condition that commonly appears on the lower part of the legs in people with diabetes. People may sometimes refer to the condition as pigmented pretibial patches or shin spots.

The spots may come and go with time, and they generally do not cause symptoms. Although there is no specific treatment to manage diabetic dermopathy, managing diabetes carefully may help prevent this and other complications.

Keep reading to learn more about the causes, symptoms, and treatment of diabetic dermopathy.

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Diabetic dermopathy is common in people with diabetes. Estimates of its prevalence vary, but research in the British Journal of Diabetes and Vascular Disease notes that up to 55% of people with diabetes may have these skin lesions.

The spots are more common among people over the age of 50 years and those who have had diabetes for longer.

Other research shows that the condition is more common among males than females. It is not contagious, meaning that it does not spread from one person to another.

The American Diabetes Association notes that diabetes can cause changes in small blood vessels and that these changes may lead to skin issues such as diabetic dermopathy.

However, the exact cause of the lesions that occur in diabetic dermopathy is unknown. Researchers have suggested various theories to explain their appearance, including thermal damage to the area, slower wound healing due to decreased blood flow in the region, and nerve degeneration.

There may also be links between diabetic dermopathy and other complications of diabetes.

For instance, a review article notes that research has shown that people with diabetic dermopathy have a significantly higher chance of developing eye, nerve, or kidney damage than those without this condition. The authors acknowledge that other research contradicts these findings, though.

Despite the mixed research findings, doctors may see diabetic dermopathy as a possible indicator of other health issues and check the person for these.

Diabetic dermopathy may appear spontaneously as pigmented patches of skin on the shins, generally on both legs.

The spots may initially be slightly pink, tan, or purple and feel a bit scaly to the touch. The spots may appear indented, with a slight dip in the center.

After some time, the spots progress and become brown and either round or oval. They are typically less than 1 centimeter (cm) in diameter but can measure up to 2.5 cm. They may resemble age spots, especially if they appear in clusters.

In rare cases, diabetic dermopathy may also appear on other areas of the body, such as higher up on the thighs or on the forearms or the sides of the feet.

The condition itself is harmless and does not cause any additional symptoms or pain. Therefore, skin spots that are burning, tingling, or itching may be a sign of another skin condition instead.

There is no specific treatment for diabetic dermopathy. As the spots themselves are harmless and asymptomatic, treatment is unnecessary.

The condition usually resolves by itself, although the healing time can vary among individuals.

If a person dislikes the appearance of the spots, they may choose to cover them with makeup. If the condition causes dry or scaly patches of skin, moisturizer may help ease the symptoms and stop lesions from progressing.

Research suggests that the application of lotions containing ingredients such as collagen or glycerin can make the changes in skin tone less visible.

As experts do not fully understand what causes diabetic dermopathy, there is no known way to prevent it completely.

However, if a person notices that spots tend to appear after injuries to the area, it may help to find ways to avoid injuries. For example, a person could use padding to protect areas of the body that they regularly bump or to round the edges of items that they may knock against at home.

Properly managing diabetes is key to reducing the risk of associated complications. Controlling blood sugar correctly may help prevent serious health issues, such as eye, nerve, and kidney damage.

Although effective control of blood sugar levels will not have an effect on any existing lesions, it can help prevent future lesions from developing.

Anyone who has diabetes and notices spots on their legs should see a doctor.

Doctors may be able to diagnose diabetic dermopathy based on the physical symptoms alone. They are unlikely to biopsy the lesions because of the risk of slow wound healing in the area.

However, they might biopsy a spot if they suspect that it is a symptom of another skin condition.

Doctors may want to do further testing to ensure that the person is properly managing their blood sugar levels and to check for damage in other tissues.

Anyone who suspects that they are experiencing the early symptoms of uncontrolled diabetes should also see a doctor. These symptoms may include:

  • frequent urination
  • constant hunger
  • increased thirst
  • fatigue
  • blurred vision
  • slow wound healing

Diabetic dermopathy refers to small discolored spots that tend to appear on the lower legs, most commonly in people with diabetes.

There is no known cause, but the spots generally cause no pain and resolve without treatment.

People can usually prevent diabetic dermopathy and other complications of diabetes by taking steps to manage their blood sugar levels carefully.

Anyone who has symptoms of diabetes or feels as though they are struggling to control their blood sugar levels may wish to discuss treatment options with a doctor.