What is lichen sclerosis and what does it look like?

Lichen sclerosis (LS) is a skin condition that makes the vulva look

white, slightly shiny, and smooth. The skin’s surface becomes thin

and delicate so that it tears easily. This can cause bleeding under

the skin. In severe cases of lichen sclerosis of the genital area,

scarring can occur. This causes the inner lips of the vulva to get

smaller. The clitoris can become covered in scar tissue.

What causes lichen sclerosis?

We do not know the exact cause of lichen sclerosis. Scientists

have different theories to try to explain the cause. Some scientists

think that an overactive immune system may play a role in causing

the disease. Some people may also develop lichen sclerosis due to

their genes or to changes in hormones. Since lichen sclerosis is

not caused by an infection, it cannot be spread and is not

contagious.

What are the symptoms of lichen sclerosis?

Symptoms of lichen sclerosis may be different from one person to

another and can be mild to severe. Girls and young women who

have this disease may experience some or all of the following

symptoms in the vulva area:

Mild to severe itching in the vulva area

Skin that appears fragile, pale, and/or white

Bruised skin with broken blood vessels or “blood blisters”

Small tears or fissures in the skin

Scar tissue covering the labia or clitoris

Bleeding or tearing of skin when having bowel movements

How is lichen sclerosis diagnosed?

Lichen sclerosis can be a difficult diagnosis to make. It is not

unusual for someone to see more than one doctor before the

disease is finally diagnosed. Most of the time, doctors who see

many patients with lichen sclerosis can often make the diagnosis

just by looking at the skin. However in most cases if you are in the

early stages of lichen sclerosis, the doctor may have to do a biopsy

(removal and examination of a small sample of affected skin) to

identify the cause of your symptoms.

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