Lichen Planus: Definition and Diagnosis

lichen planus

Lichen planus is a relatively common disease that affects the skin and/or the inside of the mouth, resulting in distinctive skin or oral lesions. This disease often appears on the wrist; and it can also affect the scalp and nails. It’s important to note that lichen planus itself is not an infectious disease, so it cannot be passed from one person to another by any means. It is also not a type of cancer.

The signs and symptoms of lichen planus depend on where it appears on the body. For instance, when the disease appears on the skin, it often causes bumps that are shiny, firm, and reddish purple. Sometimes the bumps have tiny white lines running through them, which are called Wickham’s striae. Just a few or many bumps can appear, depending on the person. The most commonly affected places are the wrists, lower back, and ankles, but they can appear anywhere on the skin, including the genitals.

Oral lichen planus is most commonly found on the insides of the cheeks. It also can appear on the tongue, lips, and gums. Someone with this disease inside the mouth may have patches of tiny white dots and lines, redness and swelling, painful sores, and peeling of the gums.

When lichen planus appears on the nails, it typically only affects a few of them but could appear on all nails of the hands and feet. Lichen planus of the nails can cause ridges or grooves, splitting or thinning, and even a temporary or permanent loss of nails. Lastly, lichen planus can less commonly appear on the scalp. In this area it can cause redness and irritation, small bumps, thinning hair or patches of scarring hair loss.

Anyone can get lichen planus, but it most commonly occurs in middle-aged adults. Lichen planus of the mouth is also more common in women than in men. A dermatologist usually diagnoses lichen planus by looking at a person’s skin, nails, and mouth. Often, a skin biopsy is performed to confirm the diagnosis. In some cases, blood tests are also ordered to exclude other diseases.

The cause of lichen planus remains unclear. A common theory is that lichen planus is an autoimmune disease, however more research is needed. This disease can also be associated with factors such as medication and other health conditions.

A board-certified dermatologist should diagnose lichen planus and determine which type of treatment is appropriate for each patient. The disease cannot be cured; however, it can be treated and managed with specific types of pills, creams, and/or light therapy. In general, lichen planus is not a harmful or fatal disease. It sometimes resolves on its own but it’s important to remember that the severity and duration of the disease varies from patient to patient.

Vujevich Dermatology Associates offers medical, surgical, and cosmetic dermatology from some of the most highly trained physicians and clinicians in the greater Pittsburgh area. You can reach our team at 412-429-2570 or visit our contact page to see all of our locations. You can also follow us on Facebook to see what’s new in the world of dermatology.

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