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Xanthelasma and Xanthoma

Pronounced: Zan-tha-las-ma; zan-tho-muh

Definition

Xanthoma is a condition in which fatty deposits form beneath the skin. They can be more than three inches in size or very small. Xanthomas are not painful or dangerous, but can be cosmetically disfiguring. Xanthomas may appear anywhere on the body, but are most frequently found on the elbows, joints, tendons, knees, hands, feet, and buttocks.

Xanthelasma is a form of xanthoma that appears on the eyelids.

Causes

Xanthoma is typically caused by:

  • Elevated levels of fats in the blood
  • Metabolic disorders including:
    • Diabetes
    • Primary biliary cirrhosis
    • Some cancers
    • Inherited metabolic disorders like high levels of cholesterol in the blood

Although xanthelasma may be associated with high triglyceride and cholesterol levels, it can occur without cholesterol problems.

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your chance of developing xanthoma include:

  • Having a metabolic disorder listed above
  • Having extremely high cholesterol and/or triglyceride levels
  • Increased age
Symptoms

The most common symptoms of xanthoma are:

  • Bumps under the skin
  • Skin lesions that are:
    • Many different shapes
    • Yellow to orange
    • Have well-defined borders

Xanthomas may be tender, itchy, and painful.

Diagnosis

Xanthoma is usually diagnosed by examining the skin growths. A biopsy of the tissue will confirm a fatty deposit.

Skin Biopsy

Skin proceedure

Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

A blood lipid profile and other tests may be done to determine the underlying condition responsible for the appearance of xanthomas.

Treatment

Treating xanthoma consists of treating and controlling the underlying health conditions that cause the fatty deposits to develop. Better control of the metabolic disorders that can lead to xanthoma can reduce their occurrence.

Xanthomas can recur after treatment.

Other treatment options for xanthomas include:

Surgery

Surgery may be used to remove the fatty deposits. However, even after a xanthoma is surgically removed, it can return.

Laser

Laser surgery with CO2 laser, pulse-dye laser, or Erbium-YAG laser can be performed.

Chemical

Treatment with trichloroacetic acid may also be used to treat xanthomas.

Prevention

To help reduce your chances of getting xanthoma, take the following steps:

  • Keep blood lipids and cholesterol at a healthy level
  • Keep metabolic disorders well-controlled

RESOURCES:

American Academy of Dermatology
http://www.aad.org

American Academy of Family Physicians
http://familydoctor.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

HealthLinkBC
http://www.healthlinkbc.ca

Canadian Dermatology Association
http://www.dermatology.ca

References:

Xanthoma. The University of Tennessee Medical Center website. Available at: http://www.utmedicalcenter.org/your-health/encyclopedia/general/001447. Accessed August 2, 2013.

Feingold K, Castro G, et al. Cutaneous xanthoma in association with paraproteinemia in the absence of hyperlipidemia. J Clin Invest. 1989 Mar;83(3):796-802.

Xanthoma. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated September 22, 2011. Accessed August 2, 2013.



Last reviewed August 2013 by Ross Zeltser, MD, FAAD; Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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