Does my general health affect my skin?

General Health and Skin

Sometimes symptoms on your skin can be like that tickle in your throat before a full-blown cold hits: They're warning signs of what's to come. The difference is that skin conditions can sometimes be a red flag for serious medical conditions that require treatment.

For example, several skin issues can signal diabetes, including a soft, dark discoloration around your neck or underarms. Round patches on your legs can be a sign that your diabetes has become more serious. And if you notice round discoloration on your legs that is red along the edge and yellowish in the center, this could mean that the diabetes has already affected your kidneys [source: Nazario].

Other abnormal signs on your skin that may indicate a change in your health are soft, raised patches called xanthomas. These patches are caused by high cholesterol. Getting your cholesterol under control will usually make these bumps go away [source: Bryg]. Eating a low-fat diet that is high in grains, fruits and vegetables is one way to work on keeping your cholesterol in check.

If you see a wing-shaped rash on your face, this could be a symptom of lupus, an autoimmune disease [source: Nazario]. When you have lupus, your body cannot distinguish healthy substances from harmful ones, so it begins to attack its own healthy cells and tissue. It can range from mild cases to ones that may cause debilitation and even death [source: Medline Plus].

Some kinds of cancer also affect how your skin looks: You might notice a leathery quality in the palms of your hands or, in rarer cases, a red rash on your buttocks [source: Nazario]. Also, watch out for moles that seem to have grown from year to year, and have your doctor check them out, as they could be malignant.

While these skin conditions sound undesirable, sometimes they could be a helpful warning sign that you need to get tested for a serious condition. Once your doctors nail down the underlying problem and treat it, your skin symptoms should subside.

For more information on skin care issues, check out the links below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Seborrheic Dermatitis." December 7, 2006 (Accessed 9/24/2009)
  • Bryg, Robert J. "Understanding Cholesterol Problems - Symptoms." WebMD. November 26, 2008 (Accessed 9/24/2009) symptoms
  • James, Beth. "How young is your skin?" Self Magazine. April 2009 (Accessed 9/24/2009)
  • Medline Plus. "Systemic lupus erythematosus." (Accessed 10/05/09)
  • Nazario, Brunilda. "What Your Skin Says About Your Health Slideshow." WebMD. April 30, 2009 (Accessed 9/24/2009)