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Lichen Sclerosus

Lichen sclerosus is a skin problem that causes thin, wrinkled white patches that are itchy and painful. If the skin tears, bright red or purple spots may appear.

Doctors don't know the exact cause of this problem. But genetics, autoimmune diseases, and changes in hormone levels may be part of the reason. It is not caused by an infection and is not contagious.

Anyone can get lichen sclerosus, but women who have gone through menopause are more likely to get it.

This skin problem can affect any part of the body. But in most cases, it occurs on the skin of the anus (the opening where stool leaves the body), the vulva (the area around the vagina), and the tip of the penis in men who haven't been circumcised.

If these skin patches are on the anus, vulva, or penis, they may need to be treated. If these areas are not treated, the skin can thicken and scar. This can cause the openings to the vagina and anus to become narrow and the foreskin over the penis to tighten and shrink. If this happens, going to the bathroom and having sex can be painful. In most cases, skin patches on any other part of the body go away on their own without treatment.

Lichen sclerosus can be treated with strong, medicated creams or with a prescription medicine. In most cases, surgery to remove the foreskin is the recommended treatment for men who have this condition on the tip of the penis.

Last Revised: April 26, 2012

Author: Healthwise Staff

Medical Review: Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine & Carla J. Herman, MD, MPH - Geriatric Medicine

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