Leprosy symptoms generally appear three to five years after a person becomes infected with the bacteria that cause the disease. However, it can take as short as a few months or several decades. Symptoms tend to vary, depending on the form of leprosy that a person has. Common leprosy symptoms include muscle weakness, skin stiffness, a skin rash, and eye problems.
An Introduction to Leprosy Symptoms
When a person becomes infected with the bacteria that cause leprosy (Mycobacterium leprae), the bacteria begin to multiply within the body. After three to five years, symptoms of leprosy will usually begin. This period between becoming infected and the start of symptoms is the "leprosy incubation period." Although the incubation period is typically between three and five years, it can range from six months to several decades.
Leprosy usually affects the skin and peripheral nerves. However, once a person starts experiencing symptoms, they can range in type and severity. Symptoms can also vary based on the form of leprosy that a person has (tuberculoid leprosy or lepromatous leprosy).
Tuberculoid leprosy (also known as paucibacillary leprosy) is the mild form of leprosy. Early symptoms can include one or more light or slightly red patches of skin that appear on the trunk or extremities. This may be associated with a decrease in light-touch sensation in the area of the rash.
Other tuberculoid leprosy symptoms can include:
- Severe pain
- Muscle weakness, especially in the hands and feet
- Skin stiffness and dryness
- Loss of fingers and toes
- Eye problems, which lead to blindness
- Enlarged nerves, especially those around the elbow (ulnar nerve) and knee (peroneal nerve).
It is important to note that not all leprosy patients lose their fingers and toes. With early diagnosis and leprosy treatment, many of these symptoms can be prevented. Several patients with tuberculoid disease can even self-heal without benefit of treatment. In order to prevent problems with fingers or toes, people should avoid injury and infections to these areas and take their medicines as prescribed.