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Is there a cure for Schamberg's disease?

Asked by Gary, Lake Placid, Florida

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What is your knowledge of Schamberg's disease, and are you aware of any cures for it?

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Conditions Expert Dr. Otis Brawley Chief Medical Officer,
American Cancer Society

Expert answer

Dear Gary, Schamberg's disease is also known as Schamberg's purpura and as progressive pigmented purpuric dermatitis. It is a condition associated with smooth, flat orangish-brown or rust-colored patches staining the skin. It especially affects the legs and ankles but can occur anywhere. No one knows why, but this disease is more common in males than females. It can occur at any age from childhood onward. There are a few other diseases with which this can be confused. A dermatologist often must make the diagnosis through a punch biopsy of the skin and examination of that biopsy under a microscope.

It is caused by leaky blood vessels (especially the small capillaries) leaving blood products under the skin and the subsequent breakdown of those blood cells. The iron from broken-down red cells accounts for the orangish brown tint of the skin rash.

This ailment is not life-threatening. It is more a cosmetic problem, although there can be itching. An eruption can last for years. Eruptions can change with slow extension, and there can even be some clearing of the original lesions.

While there is no specific treatment to cure Schamberg's disease permanently, there are things that sometimes help. The itching can usually be controlled with topical steroid creams such as cortisone. The red cell leakage is often a reaction to a medication, and it will go away by stopping that medicine. It can also be an allergic reaction to food, food additives, clothes or other artificial coloring agents.

I once saw this in a patient, and we believe it was due to a change in the formulation of a popular laundry detergent. The patient had used this detergent without problem for years and initially did not know that the formula had changed, but only that the rash had appeared. After a lot of medical detective work, changing to a new detergent was the solution.

There are anecdotal reports of response to treatment with large doses of vitamin C. I cannot find an organized study using vitamin C. I strongly suggest you see a dermatologist and review all possibilities.

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