Signs and Symptoms of Leprosy
Signs and symptoms of leprosy usually appear three to five years after becoming infected with Mycobacterium leprae -- the bacteria responsible for the disease. Leprosy usually affects the skin and peripheral nerves. However, once signs and symptoms of leprosy begin, there can be a wide variety of symptoms and severity. The type of leprosy a person has is also a factor.
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, signs and 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 signs and symptoms of leprosy, 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).
Signs and Symptoms of Tuberculoid Leprosy
Tuberculoid leprosy (also known as paucibacillary leprosy) is the mild form of the disease. Early signs and symptoms of tuberculoid leprosy 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 signs and symptoms can include:
- Skin stiffness and dryness
- Loss of fingers and toes
- Eye problems, which leads to blindness
- Severe pain
- Muscle weakness, especially in the hands and feet
- Enlarged nerves, especially those around the elbow (ulnar nerve) and knee (peroneal nerve).
It is important to note that not all people with leprosy lose their fingers and toes. With early diagnosis and leprosy treatment, many of these signs and symptoms of leprosy can be prevented. Many 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.