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What causes xanthoma? 8 possible conditions

What Is Xanthoma?

Xanthoma is also called xanthelasma or described as fatty skin growths. It results when certain fats accumulate under the skin. These growths can appear anywhere, but typically develop on the joints (especially the knees and elbows), feet, hands, and buttocks.

A xanthoma can vary in size. It looks like a flat bump under the skin and sometimes appears yellowish. It usually does not cause any pain. If the xanthoma is large, it may make you feel self-conscious about your appearance.

The condition is usually a symptom of an underlying problem with high levels of blood lipids, or fats. These underlying conditions can include:

  • diabetes
  • hyperlipidemia: high blood cholesterol levels
  • metabolic disorders: These are genetic conditions affecting body’s ability to break down chemicals and maintain life. Examples include porphyria, Krabbe disease, or congenital adrenal hyperplasia.
  • cancer: a type of condition in which malignant cells grow at an uncontrolled rate
  • cirrhosis: scarring of the liver

Xanthoma itself is not dangerous, but the underlying medical condition causing it needs to be addressed. There is also a type of xanthoma that appears on the eyelids. However, this is not always linked to high blood lipid levels. It may appear even when there is no medical condition present.

Risk Factors for Xanthoma

In addition to the medical conditions described above, there are other risk factors that may increase your chances of developing xanthoma. High cholesterol or triglyceride levels can increase your risk of xanthoma, as can being an older adult. Talk to your doctor about your risk factors and what you can do to minimize the chances of developing this condition.

How Is Xanthoma Diagnosed?

Your primary care doctor can typically diagnose xanthoma; a dermatologist is not always necessary. He or she may be able to diagnose it by examining your skin. Blood tests may be ordered to check your blood lipid levels, monitor your liver function, and rule out diabetes. A skin biopsy, which involves laboratory examination of a small skin tissue sample, can definitively confirm a fatty deposit.

How Is Xanthoma Treated?

Treating the medical condition that is causing the xanthoma is necessary to get rid of the deposits of fat under the skin and minimize the likelihood that they will return. Diabetes and metabolic disorders that are well controlled are less likely to cause xanthoma.

Other treatments for xanthoma include surgical removal, laser surgery, or chemical treatment with trichloroacetic acid. Xanthomas can return after treatment, so these are not necessarily curative. Talk to your doctor to see which treatment is right for you and whether the condition can be treated through medical management of the underlying issue.

Is Xanthoma Preventable?

This condition may not be completely preventable, but there are steps you can take to decrease your chances of developing xanthoma. If you have a metabolic disorder, follow your doctor’s instructions about how to treat and manage it. See your healthcare provider for regular checkups.

Keep your blood lipids and cholesterol at an appropriate level. This can be done through diet and exercise or, if necessary, medication. Getting regular blood work done to check these levels can help you keep your lipid and cholesterol levels in check.

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.



Cholesterol is a natural substance, but too much of it can clog blood vessels and lead to heart attack or stroke. High cholesterol levels can also cause yellow deposits in the eyes or in tendons.

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Familial Hypercholesterolemia

Familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) is an inherited condition that results in high levels of total cholesterol and LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in cells that can b...

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Hyperlipoproteinemia is a common disorder that results in high levels of lipids circulating in the blood. This can cause pancreatitis, abdominal pain, enlarged liver and other symptoms.

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Hyperlipoproteinemia Type IV

Hyperlipoproteinemia type IV leads to higher-than-normal triglyceride level due to a genetic defect. This may cause atherosclerosis and increase risk for certain heart conditions, including coronary artery disease.

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Familial Combined Hyperlipidemia

Familial combined hyperlipidemia is an inherited disorder that causes high cholesterol and high levels of triglycerides. Some individuals have no physical symptoms from the disease. For others, it may cause chest pain.

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Diabetes Overview

Diabetes is a group of chronic metabolic diseases caused by defects in insulin production or function. Advanced diabetes may cause stomach pain, nausea, dizziness, and cramps.

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The thyroid gland produces a hormone that controls how your cells use energy (metabolize). Hypothyroidism occurs when the body doesn't produce enough. Untreated, it can cause complications like obesity and heart disease.

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Pancreatitis is swelling and inflammation of the pancreas, a vital organ to digestion and blood sugar regulation. The main symptom is abdominal pain, but it may include nausea or bloating.

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.