Diseases Home > Leprosy Diagnosis

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.

Leprosy Diagnosis: An Overview

In order to make a leprosy diagnosis, the doctor will likely ask questions about:
  • Symptoms
  • Current medical conditions
  • Medications
  • 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
  • Sarcoidosis
  • Dermal leishmaniasis
  • Yaws
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Syringomyelia.


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.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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