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Acanthosis nigricans: Who gets and causes

Who gets acanthosis nigricans?

Anyone can get this skin condition. Some people, however, have a greater risk. People who are most likely to get acanthosis nigricans (AN) are:

  • Obese or overweight

  • Of Native American, African, Caribbean, or Hispanic descent

  • From a family with a history of AN

What causes acanthosis nigricans?

People get this skin condition for many reasons. Obesity is the most common cause. Studies show that when obese children and adults who have AN lose a significant amount of weight, they often see their skin clear.

People who are completely healthy also get AN. These people tend to have others in their family with this skin condition.

Sometimes, AN is a warning sign of something going on inside the body. It can be a sign that you have

  • Pre-diabetes or diabetes. If you have pre-diabetes, making some lifestyle changes can help prevent diabetes. If you have diabetes, it is important to find out so that you can treat it.

  • A reaction to a medicine you're taking. Birth control pills, strong corticosteroids like prednisone, and niacin can cause AN.

  • A hormonal condition. You could have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), thyroid disease, or a problem with your adrenal glands.

  • Cancer. When AN develops quickly, it can be a sign of a cancer, especially a cancer in the stomach, colon, or liver.

American Diabetes Association, “Type 2 diabetes,” available at www.diabetes.org. Last accessed September 2012.

Kapoor S. “Diagnosis and treatment of acanthosis nigricans.” 2010 May-Jun;8(3):161-4; quiz 165.

Sinha S, Schwartz RA. “Juvenile acanthosis nigricans.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2007;57:502-8.

Stuart CA, Gilkison CR, Smith MM, et al. Acanthosis nigricans as a risk factor for non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus. Clin Pediatr 1998;37:73-9.

Yosipovitch G, DeVore A, Dawn A. “Obesity and the skin: Skin physiology and skin manifestations of obesity.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2007;56:901-16.