Erythromelalgia is a rare skin condition that affects the feet, hands, arms, and legs. Symptoms include episodes of redness, burning, and pain in the areas affected.
Some people with erythromelalgia experience mild tingling pain, while others experience severe burning pain. Erythromelalgia episodes are called flare-ups. They occur when your body is exposed to certain triggers.
Anyone at any age can get erythromelalgia, although people assigned female at birth seem to be more prone to the condition than people assigned male.
Treatment for erythromelalgia depends on the severity, cause, and progression of the condition.
In this article, we take a closer look at erythromelalgia — its symptoms, causes, triggers, and treatment.
Erythromelalgia causes red and painful skin. A flare-up will generally appear brighter red against light skin tones and darker red against dark skin tones.
This image gallery shows what erythromelalgia looks like on different skin tones.
The primary symptoms of erythromelalgia are redness, warmth, and pain on the skin of your feet, hands, arms, and legs. Occasionally, symptoms appear on the face and ears as well. Secondary symptoms of erythromelalgia include:
- swelling in the affected body parts
- skin that feels tender
- sweating more than normal in the affected body areas
- sweating less than normal in the affected body areas
- discoloration of the skin even when there’s no flare-up
Symptoms might be mild or severe. When symptoms are mild, you may be able to manage them without significant disruption to your daily life. When erythromelalgia symptoms are severe, the pain can make it difficult to walk or even sleep normally.
Generally, erythromelalgia flare-ups are caused by increases in your body temperature. This commonly occurs when:
The exact causes of erythromelalgia aren’t always known. In most cases of erythromelalgia, no cause is pinpointed. But there are a few known causes.
Erythromelalgia can be a side effect of certain medications, like:
- calcium channel blockers
- iodinated contrast agents
- topical isopropanol
Additionally, it can sometimes be the result of another medical condition. Conditions that may cause erythromelalgia include:
- multiple sclerosis (MS)
- peripheral neuropathy and other types of nerve damage
- lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or another autoimmune condition
- polycythemia vera and conditions that impact your blood
Genetics can also play a role. According to an
There are no specific tests to confirm a diagnosis of erythromelalgia. Generally, a diagnosis is made based on an examination of your skin, a review of your medical history, and a discussion of your symptoms with your doctor.
In some cases, your erythromelalgia diagnosis will be made by a primary care doctor. In other cases, you might need to see a dermatologist. You might have a few tests to rule out other conditions or to support an erythromelalgia diagnosis. Tests could include:
Generally, treatments for erythromelalgia include topical treatments, oral medications, IV medications, and at-home trigger management. Your erythromelalgia treatment plan will depend on your symptoms, the progression of your disease, and how you respond to initial treatments. Common treatments are discussed below.
- At-home trigger management. You might work with your doctor to develop a plan to avoid triggers and reduce flare-ups. This might include controlling the temperature in your home, avoiding certain foods, wearing lighter fabrics, and other lifestyle changes.
- At-home symptom management. You can manage the pain and redness of flare-ups by cooling the impacted body part. It can help to use fans, cold water, or ice packs for a short period. It’s important to do this carefully and avoid letting your skin get too cold or letting your skin heat back up too quickly.
- Topical treatments. You might be prescribed creams or gels to soothe your skin and reduce pain during a flare-up. This normally includes creams that are lidocaine- or capsaicin-based.
- Oral medications. There are a variety of oral medications that can help with erythromelalgia. This might include anti-inflammatory medications, nerve pain medications, aspirin, or antidepressants. Depending on the underlying cause of your erythromelalgia, beta-blockers or other blood pressure medications might also help reduce flare-ups.
- IV medications. Your doctor might recommend IV medication treatment if your erythromelalgia flare-ups are severe or aren’t controlled by topical or oral treatments. You’ll generally receive a single IV treatment
There isn’t a cure for erythromelalgia, and it’s generally a lifelong condition. But this isn’t always the case.
If your erythromelalgia is caused by another condition, treating that condition might resolve it. Similarly, erythromelalgia caused by medication generally resolves when you stop taking that medication.
Even when erythromelalgia isn’t caused by another condition or a medication, it sometimes resolves on its own.
When erythromelalgia is chronic, management depends on finding the right treatment plan. It might take several tries to find the combination of treatments that works best for you. Even with treatment, erythromelalgia can sometimes be progressive and get worse over time. Your outlook will depend on your specific case.
A diagnosis of erythromelalgia can be stressful and overwhelming. It’s easy to feel alone when you have a diagnosis that your friends and family might not be familiar with. But you don’t need to face your condition alone.
There are organizations you can turn to for information and support. The Erythromelalgia Association is a good place to start. It provides a resource library, member support network, physician guide, and more.
Erythromelalgia is a rare condition that causes skin redness, warmth, and pain in certain areas of your body. The condition primarily affects your feet, legs, arms, and hands.
Erythromelalgia flare-ups are triggered by exposure to rising temperatures, like when you exercise or are in very warm climates. The condition can occur on its own or be caused by another condition.
Treatment for erythromelalgia depends on the cause and severity of your condition and how you respond to initial treatments.