Diagnosis of Leprosy

When considering a diagnosis of leprosy, a doctor begins with questions about the patient's symptoms, current medical conditions, and medications, among other things. If leprosy is suspected, a physical exam and a skin biopsy are then performed. Because the disease is uncommon in the United States, and because it shares symptoms with other diseases, a diagnosis of leprosy can be delayed, which may affect treatment.

Diagnosis of Leprosy: An Overview

In order for the doctor to make a diagnosis of leprosy, he or she will likely ask questions about:
 
  • Symptoms
  • Current medical conditions
  • Medications
  • Travel history
  • Family history of any medical conditions
  • Possible exposure to someone with leprosy.
 
The doctor will probably also perform a physical exam. During the exam, the doctor looks at the skin and other parts of the body for signs of leprosy (see Leprosy Symptoms). If the doctor suspects that a person has leprosy, he or she will recommend certain tests.
 

Tests Used to Make a Diagnosis of Leprosy

The doctor can make a definitive diagnosis of leprosy by doing a test called a skin biopsy. For people with leprosy, this skin biopsy will reveal a particular pathologic pattern and demonstrate the specific "red"-staining bacteria.
 

Diagnosis of Leprosy or Another Medical Condition?

Several other medical conditions share common symptoms with leprosy, including:
 
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus)
  • Lupus vulgaris
  • Sarcoidosis
  • Dermal leishmaniasis
  • Yaws
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Syringomyelia.
 
Because leprosy can resemble other skin diseases, a diagnosis of leprosy is often delayed. In addition, the infrequent occurrence of leprosy in our population and the inability to grow or culture Mycobacterium leprae in the laboratory can also lead to a delayed diagnosis.
 

Leprosy Disease

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