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What Is Pemphigus and How Is It Treated?

Pemphigus refers to a group of rare autoimmune skin diseases characterized by blisters or pus-filled bumps. It affects the outermost layer of skin (epidermis), and can develop in men and women of all backgrounds. Children very rarely develop pemphigus. In fact, it is more likely to occur in people ages 50 and over.  

Dr. Yvonne Hines, a dermatologist and the medical director of Hines Dermatology Associates in Attleboro, Massachusetts, has extensive experience diagnosing conditions that affect the skin, including pemphigus. A diagnosis of pemphigus requires expert management to avoid serious complications, but the right care enables patients to live well with the condition.

What is pemphigus?

Pemphigus is an autoimmune skin disease, meaning that it develops when the body’s immune system produces antibodies that attack healthy skin cells in the top layer of skin. This causes blisters to form not only on the skin, but also in the nose, throat, mouth, and eyes.

What causes the body to attack healthy skin cells in the epidermis remains a mystery, but if you have one autoimmune disease, you’re at risk of developing another. For this reason, you’re at a greater risk of pemphigus increases if you have an autoimmune disease. You’re especially at risk of pemphigus if you have myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune neuromuscular disease that causes fatigue and muscle weakness.

What are the types of pemphigus?

We classify pemphigus based on where the blisters form. Most patients have only one type of pemphigus, although it’s possible to have more than one. Types of pemphigus include:

Pemphigus vulgaris

As the most common type, pemphigus vulgaris causes blisters that form on the skin and mucous membranes. This type of pemphigus usually starts with blisters that form in the mouth, followed by the skin. Blisters caused by pemphigus vulgaris are often painful and take a while to heal.

Pemphigus vegetans

This type of pemphigus is a subtype of pemphigus vulgaris, causing distinct lesions that are thicker than those seen in pemphigus vulgaris. The blisters are similar in appearance to warts.

Pemphigus foliaceus

This type of pemphigus typically causes blisters to form on the face, neck, scalp and back. Patients with pemphigus foliaceus rarely develop blisters in the mouth. When blisters form on the back, they often affect a large area. The blisters may break and form a crust.

Pemphigus erythematosus

The erythematosus type of pemphigus is characterized by blisters that develop most often on the chest, cheeks, upper back, and scalp. The blisters typically appear red and inflamed.

How is pemphigus treated?

Patients with pemphigus have an overactive immune system that mistakenly targets skin cells. One of the primary goals of treatment is to control the immune system. This often involves the use of corticosteroids, which are steroid hormones that suppress the immune system and reduce inflammation.

Carefully prescribed corticosteroids can decrease the signs and symptoms of pemphigus. With appropriate treatment, most patients achieve complete remission. Dr. Hines tailors treatment individually based on various factors, including the severity and progression of the disease.

Dr. Hines offers the latest advancements in dermatology to treat conditions that affect the skin. Contact our Attleboro, Massachusetts office if you have pemphigus or notice unusual changes in your skin, such as blisters. Call us at 508-222-1976 or book online to schedule an appointment. Another option is to send a message to Dr. Hines and the team here on our website.

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