Symptoms of Leprosy
Leprosy usually affects the skin and peripheral nerves. However, once signs and symptoms of leprosy begin, they can vary in type and intensity. They also vary according to the type of leprosy a person has. Because leprosy symptoms can be similar to symptoms of other diseases, people who may have leprosy should see a doctor, who can diagnose and treat the problem.
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 called 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 vary in type and intensity. Symptoms of leprosy will also vary based on the form of leprosy that a person has (tuberculoid leprosy versus lepromatous leprosy).
Tuberculoid leprosy (also known as paucibacillary leprosy) is the mild form of the disease. 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 symptoms include:
- Severe pain
- Muscle weakness, especially in the hands and feet
- Skin stiffness and dryness
- Loss of fingers and toes
- Eye problems, which leads to blindness
- 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 symptoms can be prevented. Many people 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 leprosy medicines as prescribed.