Xanthomas are bumps on the skin that develop due to an accumulation of a type of fat. They may be caused by certain metabolic conditions such elevated cholesterol levels and diabetes, or can occur without any underlying medical disease.
However, since they do appear in a variety of health problems, a dermatologist should evaluate them.
Xanthomas are common in adults over the age of 40. The bumps vary from being very small to inches in size and arise in numerous locations. Those that appear around the eyes, the most common area, are called xanthelasma palpebra. They are small yellow, velvety bumps that may grow over a period of months. (1)
Xanthomas may also arise on the elbows, joints, tendons, knees, hands, feet, or buttocks. For example, tuberous xanthomas develop around pressure areas like knees and elbows and are firm, yellow-red nodules. Tendinous xanthomas grow in tendons or ligaments also as nodules. (2)
Eruptive xanthomas look like a smattering of red-yellow papules that may be tender or itchy. Plane xanthomas are flat papules or patches that may be found in the creases of the palms of the hands. (2)
All of these types of xanthomas arise from elevated lipid, triglyceride or cholesterol levels. Though xanthomas do not cause problems themselves, they often are an indicator of another medical problem involving difficulty metabolizing fat.
Diabetes, liver disease, hyperlipidemia, familial hypercholesterolemia and certain types of cancer are conditions that can cause xanthomas to develop. (3)
Sometimes medication such as systemic steroids, isotretinoin, acitretin or use of alcohol can cause xanthomas to form. (2)
If the xanthomas are due to lipid and cholesterol disorders then changing one’s diet and lifestyle are the first steps in reducing them and improving one’s health.
Diet adjustments should include increasing vegetables, fruits, cereals and fish. It is important to reduce one’s fat intake from butter, dairy products and oils. Try to lose weight and increase exercise levels and quit smoking cigarettes if you are a smoker.