Pemphigus is a group of autoimmune skin conditions that cause sores, blisters or fluid-filled bumps to form on your skin and mucus membranes. These often break open, causing pain and leaving you vulnerable to infection. Pemphigus isn’t contagious. You can manage your symptoms with medicine to help your skin heal.
Pemphigus is a group of autoimmune skin conditions that cause sores, blisters or fluid-filled bumps to form on your skin. These blisters can also form in your mucous membranes, which are the soft linings of your eyes, nose, mouth, throat and genitals.
The blisters are soft and break open easily to form painful sores. Without treatment, they can spread over large areas of your body and have a risk of infection.
Pemphigus isn’t contagious. It’s a lifelong condition that can be managed with ongoing medical treatment.
There are several types of pemphigus based on where and why lesions develop. Types of pemphigus include:
Pemphigus vulgaris causes red and white fluid-filled blisters or open sores to form inside of your mouth.
Pemphigus vulgaris causes blisters to form on your skin. A common location for blisters is near your groin and on the skin on your legs.
Pemphigus foliaceus causes red to purple blisters to form most often on your back in groups that affect the outside layer of your skin. These blisters can easily spread to cover a large area of your skin.
Pemphigus can affect anyone. It’s most common among people between the ages of 40 and 60.
Specific geographical regions of the world have a higher number of cases, including:
Pemphigus isn’t common. An estimated 1 to 5 out of every 1 million people receive a pemphigus diagnosis throughout the world each year.
Pemphigus causes blisters and sores to form on your skin. These lesions form quickly and can last for years, with new blisters appearing in the same area of your skin after one blister goes away. These lesions can be painful and cause additional symptoms like infections. Contact your healthcare provider if you have blisters that are widespread across your body, as they could be life-threatening.
Symptoms vary based on the type of pemphigus you have but could include:
Blisters and sores can easily become infected. Skin symptoms of an infection include:
Severe symptoms of pemphigus include:
Pemphigus can form on your skin in different parts of your body. The most common places include your:
The exact cause of pemphigus is unknown. Research suggests that genetics and environmental factors play a role in your diagnosis.
Pemphigus is an autoimmune condition. This means that your body’s defense system (immune system antibodies) attacks your body’s healthy cells, mistaking them for foreign invaders. When your body attacks itself, you’ll notice symptoms of pemphigus in the form of blisters or sores on your skin.
In rare cases, certain medications, including penicillin, an antibiotic, piroxicam, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug used for rheumatoid arthritis, and blood pressure medications can cause the condition.
Some studies found that specific HLA genes, which are genes that build your immune system, predispose you to certain types of the condition.
No, pemphigus isn’t contagious. You can’t spread the condition to other people.
Your healthcare provider will diagnose pemphigus after performing a physical exam, learning more about your medical history and offering tests that include:
Treatment is unique to each person diagnosed with pemphigus and could include:
Your healthcare provider will treat your condition in stages. Most people go through all three stages of treatment, which include:
Medicines used to treat pemphigus include:
Side effects vary based on the type of treatment and could include:
Your healthcare provider will monitor your condition regularly and order blood and/or urine tests to verify that your treatment is working. Tests also check for negative reactions to medications that treat pemphigus.
Eating and drinking can be difficult if you develop blisters in your mouth and throat. Choose foods that are soft and bland. Avoid foods that are crunchy, acidic and spicy, which could irritate your blisters and cause pain.
If you have trouble eating, contact your healthcare provider. They may recommend taking nutritional supplements to avoid malnutrition.
You can take steps at home to manage your symptoms of pemphigus by:
Treatment for pemphigus takes time before you see results. With treatment, you’ll notice new blisters stop forming after several weeks and your skin will begin to heal. It could take months for your blisters and sores to heal completely.
As the cause of pemphigus is unknown, there isn’t a way to prevent the condition.
The majority of people diagnosed with pemphigus have a normal lifespan. Treatment helps manage symptoms and could be ongoing throughout your life.
If left untreated, symptoms can affect your overall health and could cause life-threatening symptoms.
No, there isn’t a cure for pemphigus. Treatment is effective to alleviate symptoms.
Contact your healthcare provider if you:
If you have pemphigus, you may want to ask your healthcare provider:
While pemphigus, bullous pemphigoid and lupus are skin conditions, there are differences among the three conditions.
Pemphigus is an umbrella term for a group of skin conditions that cause blister-like lesions to form on your skin and mucus membranes.
Bullous pemphigoid is another rare skin condition that causes itchy, hive-like welts and fluid-filled blisters on your skin. Bullous pemphigoid most often affects people older than 65 years and can be life-threatening.
Lupus is an autoimmune condition that causes pain and swelling throughout your body. It can cause skin rashes to form because your body’s healthy cells attack your skin’s tissues.
There are several resources to help support people with pemphigus. Many people with the condition join support groups to share experiences and ways to manage their diagnosis.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Pemphigus is a group of skin conditions that can be persistent and ongoing throughout your life. Your healthcare provider will work closely with you to help you manage your symptoms and eliminate discomfort, especially to prevent infections. Be patient with your body to heal and try not to injure your blisters or skin sores. If you notice blisters form on your skin without a cause, contact your healthcare provider.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/18/2022.
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