Xanthoma is also called xanthelasma or described as fatty skin growths. It results when certain fats accumulate under the skin. These growths can appear anywhere, but typically develop on the joints (especially the knees and elbows), feet, hands, and buttocks.
A xanthoma can vary in size. It looks like a flat bump under the skin and sometimes appears yellowish. It usually does not cause any pain. If the xanthoma is large, it may make you feel self-conscious about your appearance.
The condition is usually a symptom of an underlying problem with high levels of blood lipids, or fats. These underlying conditions can include:
- hyperlipidemia: high blood cholesterol levels
- metabolic disorders: These are genetic conditions affecting body’s ability to break down chemicals and maintain life. Examples include porphyria, Krabbe disease, or congenital adrenal hyperplasia.
- cancer: a type of condition in which malignant cells grow at an uncontrolled rate
- cirrhosis: scarring of the liver
Xanthoma itself is not dangerous, but the underlying medical condition causing it needs to be addressed. There is also a type of xanthoma that appears on the eyelids. However, this is not always linked to high blood lipid levels. It may appear even when there is no medical condition present.
In addition to the medical conditions described above, there are other risk factors that may increase your chances of developing xanthoma. High cholesterol or triglyceride levels can increase your risk of xanthoma, as can being an older adult. Talk to your doctor about your risk factors and what you can do to minimize the chances of developing this condition.
Your primary care doctor can typically diagnose xanthoma; a dermatologist is not always necessary. He or she may be able to diagnose it by examining your skin. Blood tests may be ordered to check your blood lipid levels, monitor your liver function, and rule out diabetes. A skin biopsy, which involves laboratory examination of a small skin tissue sample, can definitively confirm a fatty deposit.
Treating the medical condition that is causing the xanthoma is necessary to get rid of the deposits of fat under the skin and minimize the likelihood that they will return. Diabetes and metabolic disorders that are well controlled are less likely to cause xanthoma.
Other treatments for xanthoma include surgical removal, laser surgery, or chemical treatment with trichloroacetic acid. Xanthomas can return after treatment, so these are not necessarily curative. Talk to your doctor to see which treatment is right for you and whether the condition can be treated through medical management of the underlying issue.
This condition may not be completely preventable, but there are steps you can take to decrease your chances of developing xanthoma. If you have a metabolic disorder, follow your doctor’s instructions about how to treat and manage it. See your healthcare provider for regular checkups.
Keep your blood lipids and cholesterol at an appropriate level. This can be done through diet and exercise or, if necessary, medication. Getting regular blood work done to check these levels can help you keep your lipid and cholesterol levels in check.