Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms mainly affect the skin, nerves, and mucous membranes (the soft, moist areas just inside the body’s openings).
The disease can cause skin symptoms such as:
A large, discolored lesion on the chest of a person with Hansen’s disease.
- Discolored patches of skin, usually flat, that may be numb and look faded (lighter than the skin around)
- Growths (nodules) on the skin
- Thick, stiff or dry skin
- Painless ulcers on the soles of feet
- Painless swelling or lumps on the face or earlobes
- Loss of eyebrows or eyelashes
Symptoms caused by damage to the nerves are:
- Numbness of affected areas of the skin
- Muscle weakness or paralysis (especially in the hands and feet)
- Enlarged nerves (especially those around the elbow and knee and in the sides of the neck)
- Eye problems that may lead to blindness (when facial nerves are affected)
Enlarged nerves below the skin and dark reddish skin patch overlying the nerves affected by the bacteria on the chest of a patient with Hansen’s disease. This skin patch was numb when touched.
Symptoms caused by the disease in the mucous membranes are:
- A stuffy nose
Since Hansen’s disease affects the nerves, loss of feeling or sensation can occur. When loss of sensation occurs, injuries such as burns may go unnoticed. Because you may not feel the pain that can warn you of harm to your body, take extra caution to ensure the affected parts of your body are not injured.
If left untreated, the signs of advanced leprosy can include:
- Paralysis and crippling of hands and feet
- Shortening of toes and fingers due to reabsorption
- Chronic non-healing ulcers on the bottoms of the feet
- Loss of eyebrows
- Nose disfigurement
Other complications that may sometimes occur are:
- Painful or tender nerves
- Redness and pain around the affected area
- Burning sensation in the skin