When making a leprosy diagnosis, a doctor starts by asking about a person's symptoms, current medications, and history of travel, among other things. If leprosy is suspected, a physical exam and a skin biopsy are then performed. Because the disease is so infrequent in the United States, and because it shares symptoms with other diseases, a leprosy diagnosis can be delayed, which may affect treatment.
In order to make a leprosy diagnosis, the doctor will likely ask questions about:
- Current medical conditions
- Travel history
- Family history of any medical conditions
- Possible exposure to someone with leprosy.
The doctor will also perform a physical exam. During the exam, the doctor will look 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 Leprosy Diagnosis
The doctor can often confirm a leprosy diagnosis by doing a test called a skin biopsy. For people with leprosy, this test will reveal a particular pathological pattern and demonstrate the specific "red"-staining bacteria.
Leprosy Diagnosis or Another Medical Condition?
Several other medical conditions share common symptoms with leprosy, including:
- Systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus)
- Lupus vulgaris
- Dermal leishmaniasis
- Peripheral neuropathy
Because leprosy can resemble other skin diseases, the leprosy diagnosis is often delayed. Furthermore, a delayed diagnosis can also occur because of the infrequent occurrence of the disease in our population and the inability to grow or culture Mycobacterium leprae in the laboratory.