What causes xanthomas and how can they be treated?

Symptom Database

Xanthomas are small, yellowish bumps that appear on the skin. They are caused by the accumulation of fat deposits under the skin’s surface. Xanthomas can vary in size and shape, and they can occur anywhere on the body. While they are usually harmless, they can be a sign of an underlying medical condition. In this article, we will explore the causes of xanthomas, their symptoms, and various treatment options available.

Causes of Xanthomas

Xanthomas are primarily caused by the buildup of cholesterol or triglycerides in the body. This buildup can be a result of various factors, including:

  • Genetic disorders: Certain genetic conditions, such as familial hypercholesterolemia, can cause high levels of cholesterol in the blood, leading to the development of xanthomas.
  • Liver disease: Liver diseases, such as primary biliary cirrhosis or hepatitis, can disrupt the normal metabolism of fats in the body, leading to the formation of xanthomas.
  • Diabetes: People with diabetes often have elevated levels of triglycerides, which can contribute to the development of xanthomas.
  • High cholesterol: Individuals with high cholesterol levels are more prone to developing xanthomas.

Symptoms of Xanthomas

Xanthomas are characterized by their yellowish color and their firm, raised appearance. They can vary in size, ranging from small, pinhead-sized bumps to larger, coin-sized lesions. Xanthomas are usually painless, but they can be itchy or tender to the touch. The most common areas where xanthomas occur include:

  • Eyelids
  • Elbows
  • Knees
  • Hands
  • Feet

If you notice any unusual bumps on your skin, especially if they are yellowish in color, it is important to consult a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis.

Diagnosis of Xanthomas

To diagnose xanthomas, a healthcare professional will typically perform a physical examination and review your medical history. They may also order blood tests to measure your cholesterol and triglyceride levels. In some cases, a biopsy may be necessary to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment of Xanthomas

The treatment of xanthomas depends on the underlying cause and the severity of the condition. Here are some common treatment options:

Medical Treatment

If xanthomas are caused by an underlying medical condition, such as high cholesterol or liver disease, treating the underlying condition is essential. This may involve lifestyle changes, such as adopting a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and taking medications to control cholesterol levels.


In some cases, xanthomas may need to be surgically removed. This is typically done if the xanthomas are large, causing discomfort, or affecting the function of a particular body part. Surgical removal is usually a straightforward procedure performed under local anesthesia.

Natural Remedies

While there are no specific natural remedies for xanthomas, adopting a healthy lifestyle can help manage the condition. This includes eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, exercising regularly, and avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. These lifestyle changes can help improve overall health and reduce the risk of xanthoma formation.

Prevention of Xanthomas

While it may not be possible to prevent xanthomas entirely, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk:

  • Maintain a healthy weight: Excess weight can contribute to high cholesterol levels, increasing the risk of xanthomas.
  • Eat a healthy diet: Limit your intake of saturated fats and cholesterol-rich foods, and opt for a diet that is low in processed foods and high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Exercise regularly: Regular physical activity can help lower cholesterol levels and improve overall cardiovascular health.
  • Manage underlying medical conditions: If you have conditions such as diabetes or liver disease, work closely with your healthcare provider to manage them effectively.

In conclusion, xanthomas are benign skin growths that are often a sign of an underlying medical condition. While they can be unsightly, they are usually harmless. If you notice any unusual bumps on your skin, it is important to consult a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment. By addressing the underlying causes and adopting a healthy lifestyle, you can effectively manage xanthomas and reduce their impact on your overall health and well-being.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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