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Diseases

Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD)

Lichen sclerosus


Other Names for this Disease
  • Lichen sclerosis
  • Lichen sclerosis et atrophicus
  • Lichen sclerosus et atrophicus
See Disclaimer regarding information on this site. Some links on this page may take you to organizations outside of the National Institutes of Health.

Your Question

My doctor told me I have lichen sclerosis. What is this condition?

Our Answer

We have identified the following information that we hope you find helpful. If you still have questions, please contact us.

What is lichen sclerosus?

Lichen sclerosus is a chronic skin disorder that is more common in women, most often affecting the external part of the vagina (vulva) or the area around the anus. In men, it typically affects the tip of the penis. It can occur at any age but is usually seen in women over age 50. Some people have no symptoms, while others may experience itchiness (sometimes severe), discomfort, or blistering.[1][2] It often lasts for years and can cause permanent scarring. The underlying cause of lichen sclerosus is not fully understood but it is thought to relate to an autoimmune process. Treatment may include topical steroids or other types of topical creams and/or surgery.[1]
Last updated: 5/26/2015

What causes lichen sclerosus?

The underlying cause of lichen sclerosus is not fully understood. The condition may be due to genetic, hormonal, irritant and/or infectious factors (or a combination of these factors). It is believed to relate to an autoimmune process, in which antibodies mistakenly attack a component of the skin. Other autoimmune conditions are reported to occur more frequently than expected in people with lichen sclerosis.[1] In some cases, lichen sclerosus appears on skin that has been damaged or scarred from previous injury or trauma.[2]

Last updated: 5/26/2015

What are the signs and symptoms of lichen sclerosus?

The symptoms are the same in children and adults. Early in the disease, small, subtle white spots appear. These areas are usually slightly shiny and smooth. As time goes on, the spots develop into bigger patches, and the skin surface becomes thinned and crinkled. As a result, the skin tears easily, and bright red or purple discoloration from bleeding inside the skin is common.[3] 

Symptoms vary depending on the area affected. Patients experience different degrees of discomfort. When lichen sclerosus occurs on parts of the body other than the genital area, most often there are no symptoms, other than itching. If the disease is severe, bleeding, tearing, and blistering caused by rubbing or bumping the skin can cause pain.[3]

Last updated: 8/31/2012

How might lichen sclerosus be treated?

Strong topical steroid creams or ointments reportedly are very helpful for lichen sclerosus, especially when it affects the genital areas. However, the response to this treatment varies. While itching may be relieved within days, it can take weeks or months for the skin's appearance to return to normal.

Other treatments that may be used instead of steroid creams, or in combination with steroid creams, include calcipotriol cream, topical and systemic retinoids (acitretin), and/or systemic steroids.

If the vaginal opening has narrowed, dilators may be needed. In rare cases, surgery is necessary to allow for sexual intercourse. The condition sometimes causes the vaginal opening to narrow or close again after surgery is initially successful.[1]

Additional information about treatment of lichen sclerosus can be viewed on Medscape's Web site.
Last updated: 5/26/2015

References
Other Names for this Disease
  • Lichen sclerosis
  • Lichen sclerosis et atrophicus
  • Lichen sclerosus et atrophicus
See Disclaimer regarding information on this site. Some links on this page may take you to organizations outside of the National Institutes of Health.