Cutaneous signs of systemic disease

Laju M. Patel, Phelps J. Lambert, Claude E. Gagna, Amin Maghari, W. Clark Lambert

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46 Scopus citations


Commonly used dermatologic eponyms and characteristic skin signs are enormously helpful in guiding a diagnosis, even though they may not be pathonemonic. They include, on the nails, Aldrich-Mees' lines (syn.: Mees' lines), Beau's lines, Muehrcke's lines, Terry's nails, and half and half nails, often associated, respectively, with arsenic poisoning, acute stress or systemic illness, severe hypertension, liver disease and uremia, and, around the nails, Braverman's sign, associated with collagen-vascular disease. Elsewhere, one may see the Asboe-Hansen and Nikolsky's signs, indicative of the pemphigus group of diseases, Auspitz's sign, a classic finding in psoriasis, Borsieri's and Pasita's signs, seen in early scarlet fever, the butterfly rash, indicative of systemic lupus erythematosus, and the buffalo hump, seen in Cushing's disease and also in the more common corticosteroid toxicity. Gottron's papules and the heliotrope rash are signs of dermatomyositis. Janeway's lesions and Osler's nodes are seen in bacterial endocarditis. A Dennie-Morgan fold under the eye is seen in association with atopic disease. Koplik's spots are an early sign of rubeola. Fitzpatrick's sign is indicative of a benign lesion (dermatofibroma), whereas Hutchinson's sign is indicative of a malignant one (subungual melanoma). Petechiae are seen in many diseases, including fat embolization, particularly from a large bone fracture following trauma. Palpable purpura is indicative of leukocytoclastic vasculitis, and is an early, critical sign in Rickettsial diseases, including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, which must be diagnosed and treated early. Hyperpigmentation of areolae and scars is seen in Addison's disease. Acanthosis nigricans may indicate internal cancer, especially stomach cancer, whereas Bazex's syndrome occurs in synchrony with primary, usually squamous cancer, in the upper aerodigestive tract or metastatic cancer in cervical lymph nodes. Perioral pigmented macules or one or more cutaneous sebaceous neoplasms may be a sign of the Peutz-Jeghers or Muir-Torre syndrome, respectively, both associated also with intestinal polyps that have a malignant potential. Telangiectasiae in the perioral region may be associated with similar lesions internally in Osler-Weber-Rendu disease. Kerr's sign is indicative of spinal cord injury and Darier's sign of mastocytosis. Post proctoscopic periobital purpura (PPPP) is a phenomenon observed in some patients with systemic amyloidosis. Koebner's isomorphic response refers to the tendency of an established dermatosis, such as psoriasis, to arise in (a) site(s) of trauma, whereas Wolf's isotrophic response refers to a new dermatosis, such as tinea, not yet seen in the patient, arising in (a) site(s) of a former but different dermatosis, such as zoster.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)511-522
Number of pages12
JournalClinics in Dermatology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2011
Externally publishedYes


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