Erythema nodosum is the name given to extremely tender lumps on the legs and sometimes the arms. They are caused by inflammation of the fat or connective tissue beneath the skin. The bumps look like bruises. They change color in the same way, from pink to blue to brown.
Erythema nodosum is thought to be a type of autoimmune reaction. It may be caused by:
- Inflammatory conditions
- Sulfa drugs and some other antibiotics
- Birth control pills
- Leukotriene modifiers
- Proton pump inhibitors
Sometimes the cause of erythema nodosum is not known.
This condition is rare. It is more common in females and young adults aged 20-30 years old. Having any of the causes listed above will only slightly increase your risk of the disorder.
The risk factor for erythema nodosum is genetics.
Very tender, deep lumps, like bruises,
- Usually located on your shins
- May also appear on the forearms, trunk, neck, and head
- Associated joint pain and fever and redness around the eyes
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done, which may diagnose the problem based on a visual exam. You may be referred to a doctor that focuses on skin problems or infectious diseases.
Your bodily fluids and cells may be tested to look for a cause. This can be done with:
- Blood and urine samples
- PPD skin test for tuberculosis
- Biopsy of a lesion
Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with a chest x-ray and other imaging tests.
If a cause can be identified, it will be treated. For the nodules themselves, pain relief is all that is needed. They tend to resolve on their own in about six weeks. They will not cause scarring. Treatment options include the following:
Pain relief includes:
- Bed rest and elevation of legs
- Wet compresses
- Aspirin, except in children
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- Potassium iodide
Some of the infectious causes can be avoided by practicing good hygiene, which includes:
- Washing your hands often
- Not sharing food, drinks, or utensils
American Academy of Dermatology
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Canadian Dermatology Association
Erythema nodosum. EBSCO DynaMed website. Updated April 2, 2014. Accessed September 24, 2014.
Erythema nodosum. Better Health Channel website. Available at: http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Erythema_nodosum?OpenDocument. Updated March 2014. Accessed September 24, 2014.
Requena L, Yus ES. Erythema nodosum. Dermatol Clin. 2008;26(4):425-438, v. Review.
Last reviewed June 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.