Lichen sclerosus

What is it?

Lichen sclerosus is a rare autoimmune inflammatory disease, also known as Lichen sclerosus et atrophicus. It is a skin and mucosae condition which affects particularly the tissue of the genital area in males and females.

What are the symptoms?

Lichen sclerosus is an inflammation which can affect both men and women, but it’s most common in women over 50.

The condition affects women mostly in the genital area; however, it may also affect the arms, legs, and tongue.

In women, the most common symptoms include:

  • itching
  • a burning sensation;
  • dyspareunia (painful sexual intercourse)
  • vaginal dryness
  • local skin irritation
  • white spots or patches appearing on the skin
  • anal fissures
  • labia minora shrinking or flattening

For men, lichen sclerosus mainly affects the tip of the penis. The most common symptoms include:

In children, the most common symptoms include:

  • girls: itching and burning sensation of the vulva and perineum area;
  • boys: general irritation of the genital area.

How is it diagnosed?

Lichen sclerosus is generally diagnosed by analysing under a microscope a small tissue sample taken from the affected area.

What causes it?

The cause of lichen sclerosus is unknown, but there are some possibilities:

  • overactive immune system
  • hormone imbalance
  • genetic factors
  • poor skin health, or having had any previous injury on your skin

How is it treated?

The main treatment for lichen sclerosis is a topical steroid cream. This usually has to be applied for a few months and can help to control the symptoms.

In rare cases where steroid cream does not work, there are other medicines that can reduce inflammation. For a small number of patients, minor surgery such as removal of the foreskin, or surgery to widen the vagina, may be recommended.