Bullous pemphigoid is a disease that causes blisters to form on the skin. It often lasts for up to 5 years. Treatment can help.
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Bullous pemphigoid is an autoimmune disease. This means the immune system attacks its own tissue by mistake. Normally, the immune system attacks foreign matter to prevent or stop infections. In this disease, it attacks tissue just below the top layer of skin.
The exact cause of bullous pemphigoid is not clear. It may be linked to other immune problems.
Bullous pemphigoid is more common in people over 70 years old.
Other things that may raise the risk are:
The first symptom of bullous pemphigoid is often severe itching of the skin. A rash and blisters develop later. Blisters are usually clear. They are often found on the arms, legs, belly, and mouth, along skin folds. The blisters can break and form ulcers.
The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. You may be referred to a skin specialist.
Tests may be done to rule out conditions with similar symptoms. Tests may include:
- Blood tests
- Skin biopsy —a sample of the affected tissue will be taken and tested
Treatment depends on how severe the disease is. If medicines have played a role in the disease, they may be changed or stopped. Bullous pemphigoid responds well to treatment. It often disappears completely within 5 years.
Treatment options are:
- Medicines to lower the immune system, such as:
- Steroids (by mouth, injection, or applied to the skin)
- Immunosuppressants (by mouth or injection)—for those who do not respond well to steroids
- Antibiotics applied to the skin—prevent or to treat infections
- Skin care, such as:
- Leaving blisters alone, if possible—to prevent infection
- Draining blisters that interfere with daily tasks
- Bandaging and protecting raw areas
There are no guidelines to prevent bullous pemphigoid.
- Bullous pemphigoid. Cleveland Clinic website. Available at: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15855-bullous-pemphigoid.
- Bullous pemphigoid. DermNet NZ website. Available at:https://www.dermnetnz.org/topics/bullous-pemphigoid.
- Bullous pemphigoid. NHS Choices website. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/bullous-pemphigoid/.
- Bullous pemphigoid. Primary Care Dermatology Society website. Available at: http://www.pcds.org.uk/clinical-guidance/bullous-pemphigoid1.
- Pemphigoid. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/condition/pemphigoid.
- Sadik CD, Schmidt E. Resolution in bullous pemphigoid. Semin Immunopathol. 2019;41(6):645-654.
- Dan Ostrovsky, MD
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