What Are 3 Main Symptoms of Hansen's Disease?

Reviewed on 11/23/2022
What Are 3 Main Symptoms of Hansen's Disease
Symptoms of Hansen’s disease, commonly called leprosy, mainly affect the skin, nerves, and mucous membranes

Hansen’s disease is a chronic disease, and symptoms generally take 3-7 years to develop. 

Symptoms of Hansen’s disease, commonly called leprosy, mainly affect the skin, nerves, and mucous membranes, although they can vary depending on the type and severity of the condition. 

1. Skin symptoms

Skin symptoms are generally the most prominent and include:

  • Patches of red, light-colored, or faded-looking skin
  • Numbness over the discolored skin patches
  • Loss of eyebrows and eyelashes
  • Increased skin stiffness and thickness
  • Painless wounds or ulcers on the hands and feet
  • Painless lumps on the earlobes and face
  • Multiple burns or injury wounds due to reduced skin sensation

2. Nerve symptoms

Nerve damage resulting from Hansen’s disease may cause:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Enlarged peripheral nerves (felt as firm cord-like structures on palpation, mainly felt in the elbows, knees, and neck region)
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Vision problems 

3. Mucus membrane symptoms

These include symptoms that affect the moist linings inside body openings such as the mouth and nose and may present as:

What causes Hansen’s disease?

Hansen’s disease is a chronic infectious disease caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae. The disease generally has a long incubation period, which means there is a long period of time between the time of infection and the appearance of symptoms. 

Usually, the symptoms do not appear until at least a year has passed since the exposure to the infection. Sometimes, it may take as long as 20 years for the symptoms to appear.

Leprosy is one of the oldest diseases known to humans. The main mode of transmission is through droplets from the nose (during sneezing) and mouth (during coughing) through close and frequent contact with untreated infected persons. Hansen’s disease does not appear to spread through touching, shaking hands, hugging, or even sexual contact with the infected person.

What are the complications of Hansen’s disease?

Leprosy is a chronic disease, that, if left untreated, can cause serious, progressive, and permanent damage to the skin, nerves, limbs, and eyes. The disease may result in the following complications:

  • Disfiguration or shortening of the fingers and toes
  • Paralysis
  • Blindness
  • Facial (particularly nasal) disfiguration
  • Chronic nonhealing ulcers that typically affect the soles
  • Tender and thickened nerves
  • Chronic pain, burning sensation, and redness in the affected area

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How is Hansen’s disease diagnosed?

Leprosy is diagnosed based on medical history, physical examination, and certain tests:

  • History: Involves asking about your symptoms, family history, and whether you had contact with anyone from whom you may have gotten the infection
  • Physical examination: Includes the examination of any skin redness/discoloration, thickened nerves, loss of skin sensation, and vision changes
  • Tests: May include investigations to rule out other infections or skin conditions, such as a skin or nerve biopsy to look for characteristic lesions and the presence of M. leprae

How is Hansen’s disease treated?

Leprosy can be effectively treated through multidrug therapy (MDT). Treatment not only relieves symptoms and prevents complications but also lowers the risk of transmission.

MDT consists of a combination of two or more types of antibiotics, which kill the culprit bacteria (M. leprae). Multiple antibiotics reduce the likelihood of antibiotic resistance and generally include dapsone, rifampicin, and clofazimine. Medications such as steroids may also be given to lower the inflammation associated with the disease. 

Treatment may take 1-2 years to effectively cure the disease. Thus, it is important to follow the treatment as suggested by your doctor. Contact your doctor immediately if you develop any new or worsening symptoms during the treatment. Do not alter or stop the prescribed course of treatment as this could make the condition worse and make recovery more challenging.

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References
Image Source: iStock image

https://www.uptodate.com/contents/leprosy-epidemiology-microbiology-clinical-manifestations-and-diagnosis

https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/leprosy

https://www.cdc.gov/leprosy/symptoms/index.html

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