Pemphigus is an autoimmune disorder that causes blistering and raw sores on skin and mucous membranes. As with other autoimmune disorders, it is caused when the body's defenses mistake its own tissues as foreign, and attack the cells. more...
There are three types of pemphigus which vary in severity: pemphigus vulgaris, pemphigus foliaceus, and paraneoplastic pemphigus.
- The most common form of the disorder is pemphigus vulgaris (ICD-10 L10.0). It occurs when antibodies attack Desmoglein 3, a protein that keeps cells bound together. Thus, cells simply fall apart, causing skin to slough off. Although pemphigus vulgaris may occur at any age, it is quite rare in children, and most common in the middle aged and elderly. Sores often originate in the mouth, making eating difficult and uncomfortable.
- Pemphigus foliaceus (ICD-10 L10.2) is the least severe of the three varieties. Desmoglein 1, the protein that is destroyed by the body's immune system is only found in the top dry layer of the skin, so mouth sores do not occur. Pemphigus foliaceus is characterized by crusty sores that often begin on the scalp, and may move to the chest, back, and face. It is not as painful as pemphigus vulgaris, and is often mis-diagnosed as dermatitis or eczema.
- The least common and most severe type of pemphigus is the neoplastic variety. This disorder is usually found in conjunction with an already-existing malignancy. Very painful sores appear on the mouth, lips, and the esophagus. A diagnosis of neoplastic pemphigus may prompt a search for an existing tumor. Sometimes, the tumor is not malignant. In these cases, tumor removal may lead to a remission of the pemphigus.
If not treated, pemphigus is usually fatal, due to overwhelming systemic infection. The most common treatment is the administration of oral steroids, especially prednisone. Mild cases sometimes respond to the application of topical steroids. All of these drugs may cause severe side effects, so the patient should be closely monitored by doctors. Once the outbreaks are under control, dosage is often reduced, to lessen side effects.
If skin lesions do become infected, antibiotics may be used for treatment. In addition, talcum powder is helpful to prevent oozing sores from adhering to bedsheets and clothes.
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