Autoimmune Skin Diseases

Autoimmune Skin Diseases

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Duke dermatologists diagnose autoimmune skin diseases like pemphigus, pemphigoid, scleroderma, vasculitis, and lupus -- all of which occur when the body’s immune system attacks healthy skin. Our experienced doctors are dedicated to researching the causes of rare autoimmune skin diseases, testing new therapies, and providing relief from the itchy, blistering, or painful rashes that may affect the skin, mouth, and eyes.

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About Autoimmune Skin Diseases

Many autoimmune skin diseases are related to disorders that affect other areas of the body. For example:

  • Dermatitis herpetiformis is linked to celiac disease, and may cause blisters
  • Scleroderma causes the skin to become thick and rigid
  • Vasculitis causes inflammation of the blood vessels
  • Lupus can affect the skin, joints, and kidneys
  • Dermatomyositis can cause muscle inflammation and skin rashes.

Autoimmune Blistering Skin Diseases
These occur when the immune system attacks your healthy tissue. When this happens, skin cells cannot perform their normal functions and may turn into sores, blisters, or rashes. Diseases include bullous pemphigoid, which causes blistering on the body and sometimes in the mouth or eyes, and pemphigus, which causes blistering on the skin and in the mucous membranes in the mouth, nose, or genitals.

Our Locations
Duke Health offers locations throughout the Triangle. Find one near you.

Treatments

While there are no cures for the different types of autoimmune and blistering skin diseases, many treatments are effective at relieving symptoms and slowing the progression of your condition. 

Corticosteroids

Topical (applied directly to the skin) and systemic (taken by mouth) corticosteroids suppress the immune system and slow progression of the disease. May be used for treating milder cases.

Immunosuppressive Medications

These prescription medications suppress the body’s immune response and control the inflammatory effects of the disease. They require regular physician monitoring.

Rituximab

This biologic medication targets specific areas in the immune system to reduce inflammation. It requires regular physician monitoring.

Intravenous Immunoglobulin

A purified blood product that contains healthy antibodies. This therapy prevents or reduces the severity of infections in patients with weakened immune systems and neutralizes damaging antibodies that target the patient’s own body. May require repeat infusions.

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Tests

Physical Exam

Your comprehensive evaluation includes a review of your medical history, a complete physical exam, and a close examination of your rashes, blisters, and other symptoms.

Lab Tests

Your doctor may order blood work to check for autoimmune factors such as antibodies or blood proteins that may be signs of inflammation.

Skin Biopsy

The doctor removes a small sample of skin from an affected area, if necessary, to examine it and make an accurate diagnosis.

Consistently Ranked Among the Nation’s Best Hospitals
In addition, Duke University Hospital is proud to be named the best hospital in North Carolina, and nationally ranked in 10 adult and 9 pediatric specialties by U.S. News & World Report for 2019–2020.

Why Choose Duke

Experience
Though these autoimmune blistering skin diseases are rare, our team of experts sees many people with these conditions. We have the skills to make an accurate diagnosis, and the knowledge and experience to develop the right treatment plan for you.

A Team Approach to Care
Autoimmune blistering skin diseases often involve many parts of the body. When appropriate, our dermatologists work closely with other specialists to manage your care effectively and to relieve your symptoms. To provide you with the best possible care, our dermatologists work with many Duke specialists including ophthalmologists; ear, nose, and throat specialists; gastroenterologists; and rheumatologists to accurately diagnose and treat your autoimmune skin disease.

Research Leading to New Developments
Our dermatologists are involved in studies aimed at understanding the basic causes of these diseases; finding new, more sensitive diagnostic tests; and developing effective treatments. We use these advances to identify the cause of your discomfort and find the right treatment to relieve your symptoms and return you to the activities you enjoy.

Opportunities to Test New Treatments
You may be eligible to participate in our ongoing clinical trials to test new therapies for your condition before they are widely available.