Skin tags are a common skin growth, especially in the elderly and people with excess weight, although they occur in all demographics. While these protrusions are largely harmless, they can at times indicate the presence of diabetes. Knowledge of skin tags could thus prove pivotal in diagnosing this condition.
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Skin tags are small, benign growths that form on the skin when it rubs against itself or clothing. They consist of collagen fibers, nerve cells, and smaller nerve cells that become tangled in layers of skin. Skin tags are usually medically harmless, although one might dread their appearance on the skin, for cosmetic reasons.
Also known as acrochordon, these non-cancerous growths do not have any symptoms and can even go unnoticed and unfelt for some time. They are, however, painful when twisted, rubbed, or scratched.
While they may resemble warts, skin tags are different in that they tend to be smooth and soft, whereas warts are rougher and have an irregular surface. Skin tags are also knob-like as they hang off the skin, unlike warts, which are slightly raised and lie flat on the skin. Skin tags are also not contagious, as is the case with warts; they’re easily spread.
Diabetes occurs due to the body's inability to generate or respond to the insulin hormone, leading to abnormal metabolism of carbohydrates and subsequently high glucose levels in the blood.
Inexplicable weight loss
Increased thirst and frequent urination
Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet.
There are several types of diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes arises when the body's immune system attacks and destroys the cells responsible for producing insulin in the pancreas. The causes of type 1 diabetes include genetic predisposition and environmental factors such as viral infections.
There is also gestational diabetes, which occurs during pregnancy due to hormonal changes that lead to insulin resistance. While most women can produce enough insulin to overcome the resistance, some cannot and, as a result, develop this condition.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of the disease and while it can stem from genetic factors, being overweight and physically inactive are also major contributors.
Production of an excess amount of a particular hormone can result in insulin resistance and diabetes. Conditions like Cushing's syndrome, where the body produces excess cortisol, and hyperthyroidism, where the thyroid gland produces excess thyroid hormone, are examples of such diseases.
The pancreas harbors beta cells responsible for producing insulin, and damage to this organ or its removal is likely to result in diabetes.
Gene mutations that hinder the production of insulin can lead to monogenic diabetes. At the same time, cystic fibrosis, a condition that produces thick mucus that scars the pancreas, can also impede insulin production, resulting in diabetes. Hemochromatosis, where the body stores excess iron, consequently damaging the pancreas, is yet another cause of diabetes.
Certain prescription drugs can harm the beta cells or interfere with insulin performance. You should thus be well informed of the side effects or consult a healthcare professional before consuming the medicine.
While skin tags should not necessarily cause medical alarm, multiple skin tags can signify an underlying condition such as diabetes. For instance, research shows an increased risk of diabetes mellitus in people with multiple skin tags.
Individuals with more than 30 skin tags and women with skin tags under their breasts are especially at high risk of being diagnosed with impaired carbohydrate metabolism. Therefore, it is advisable that doctors look out for type 2 diabetes in individuals with multiple skin tags to increase the chances of early detection.
Not necessarily. The presence of skin tags does not always point to a diabetes diagnosis. It is advisable to visit a doctor for examination before coming to any conclusions, as with any condition.
Skin tags are harmless and occur in areas such as the neck, armpits, or groin where the skin is likely to rub against itself. It thus tends to affect overweight individuals with excess folds of skin and skin chafing.
It can also occur in pregnant women due to hormonal changes and weight gain, while some people develop it for apparently inexplicable reasons.
While experts cannot point out the exact reason for diabetes skin tags, studies¹ associate them with impaired carbohydrate metabolism, although results remain inconclusive.
These skin tags are also often present in people with obesity, which is also linked to diabetes, which could explain the relationship between the skin condition and the disease.
There is also the school of thought that diabetes skin tags result from hyperinsulinemia, which causes endocrine shifts that alter cellular growth, resulting in skin lesions.
While the exact cause of the dermatological lesions is unclear, diabetes-related skin tags do appear to coincide with the following conditions.
Being overweight comes with the risk of developing diabetes. Weight gain, particularly in individuals with type 2 diabetes, leaves blood sugar levels hard to control. People on the higher end of the scales also tend to have skin tags.
Weight and pregnancy are not mutually exclusive, which can explain the occurrence of skin tags in pregnant women. There is also the possibility of gestational diabetes being associated with skin tags.
Genetic factors may predispose you to develop skin tags. The hereditary nature of this condition may signal the presence of diabetes, which can also be a result of family history.
While skin tags do not pose any health risk, they can be bothersome, especially if you are concerned about your looks or if they frequently rub on clothing or jewelry, causing painful discomfort.
Fortunately, you can have them removed, and it is best to do this with the help of a qualified professional who can utilize one of the following methods.
Large skin tags have a thicker stalk at the bottom, which doctors can surgically remove after injecting a small amount of lidocaine to numb the skin.
Alternatively, the doctor could cut off the skin tag's blood supply by tying a surgical thread at its base, a process known as ligation. You could also burn the skin tag with high-frequency electrical energy.
If the skin tags are very small, then a specialist can spray them with liquid nitrogen at -320 degrees Fahrenheit, which will see the skin tag fall off after a few days. This treatment method is not severely painful, but it stings for a few seconds and can result in a blister or scab due to the temperature of the liquid, which destroys skin cells to get rid of the skin tag.
While there are also home remedies, their effectiveness is yet to be scientifically proven. Also, not all growths that look like skin tags are skin tags, which is why you should consult a relevant professional.
It is prudent to steer clear of unprofessional remedies as they pose a risk of infection. If the skin tags result from diabetes, stabilizing your insulin level may see them clear up without the need for removal.
There are no documented means of preventing skin tags, especially if you are genetically susceptible to the condition.
However, there are things you can do to reduce the risk of developing skin tags. If you are overweight, it would be prudent to lose a few pounds to minimize skin folds and the possibility of developing skin tags.
Skin tags are benign growths on the skin surface and often have little consequence on your health. While they are harmless for the most part, multiple skin tags could be a marker for diabetes, as research has found a strong link between individuals with numerous skin tags and diabetes.
However, their mere presence does not mean that you have diabetes, which is why a professional diagnosis is always necessary. Getting a diagnosis early can help ensure that you receive treatment for diabetes before organ damage has occurred. If in doubt, talk to your doctor.
What is diabetes? | National Institute of Health
Symptoms & causes of diabetes | National Institute of Health
Type 1 diabetes | National Institute of Health
Gestational diabetes | National Institute of Health
Type 2 diabetes | National Institute of Health
Monogenic diabetes (Neonatal diabetes mellitus & MODY) | National Institute of Health
Skin tags | Statpearls