Diseases Home > Effects of Leprosy

The effects of leprosy will usually appear within three to five years after a person has been infected with the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae, which causes leprosy. The disease usually affects the skin and peripheral nerves. However, once a person starts experiencing the effects of leprosy, symptoms can vary in type and severity. Symptoms also vary depending on the type of leprosy a person has.

Effects of Leprosy: An Overview

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, the effects of leprosy will usually begin. This period between becoming infected and the start of leprosy symptoms is the "leprosy incubation period." Although the incubation period for leprosy 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 the effects of leprosy, there can be a wide variety of symptoms and severity. Symptoms of leprosy will also vary based on the form of leprosy that a person has (tuberculoid leprosy or lepromatous leprosy).

Effects of Tuberculoid Leprosy

Tuberculoid leprosy (also known as paucibacillary leprosy) is the mild form of the disease. Early effects 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 effects of tuberculoid leprosy can 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 leprosy patients lose their fingers and toes. With early diagnosis and leprosy treatment, many of these effects 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 the leprosy medicines.
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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