Common Diseases and Disorders of the Integumentary System’s Skin

Did you know that our skin accounts for 15% of our entire body weight? Skin, part of the integumentary system, is the outer shelf of our body and is the largest multifunctioning organ in the body. Patients may ask you as a medical assistant, why do we have skin on our bodies? How does my skin heal? What are the most common diseases and disorders of the integumentary system that a medical assistant may deal with regularly?  This lesson in anatomy will be important for the medical assistant to know when educating patients about their bodies and assisting physicians with diagnosis and treatment of the integumentary system diseases and disorders.

Why Do We have Skin on Our Bodies?

Our Integumentary System has an important job for the human body. It provides protection against diseases, disorders, bacteria and viruses as long as the skin is intact. The skin protects us from UV rays and works with the body to regulate the body’s temperature. Further, the skin can turn sunlight into Vitamin D and can expel waste through sweat.

The skin is made up of three layers the epidermis, dermis and subcutaneous layer. The epidermis is made up of cells that constantly divide, pushing old cells to the surface. The dermis contains all the tissue types of the skin and includes our sweat glands, hair follicles and blood vessels. The subcutaneous layer stores fat and cushions our body’s organs.

How Does My Skin Heal?

When skin is injured it becomes inflamed. The blood vessels dilate causing the area to look red. The inflammation actually promotes healing of the wound since more blood travels to the wound and the blood carries nutrients to heal the skin.

What are the Most Common Diseases and Disorders of the Integumentary System?

As a medical assistant, it will be important to become familiar with the common diseases and disorders of the integumentary system. You will know what to look for during an initial patient exam and educate patients that may have questions or concerns about their skin.

Acne –  Acne is the most common skin disorder in the United States, affecting up to 50 million Americans annually, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Acne is a chronic inflammatory skin disorder that occurs primarily on the face, neck, chest, back, shoulders and upper arms. Acne can be caused by overactive oil glands that produce too much oil and plug pores of the skin. Acne can be caused by genetics, hormones, menstruation, stress and some medications. It can also be caused by foods with a high glycemic index including grains and sweets. Treatment of acne can be done by gently washing the affected areas or the use of over-the-counter medication. Topical therapy is used for mild acne and oral antibiotics can be used for more severe acne.

Birthmarks – many people are born with birthmarks. Over 80 percent of babies have some kind of birthmark when born or shortly after, according to the Baby Center. They are brown, tan, blue, pink or red and can occur anywhere on the body. The exact cause of birthmarks is unknown. Make sure to have birthmarks checked regularly especially if they change color, shape or size. Also see a doctor if they bleed, ooze, or begin to itch. Don’t allow excessive sun exposure because the birthmarks can become cancerous.

Burns – Over 486,000 people in the U.S. were treated for burn injuries in 2016, according to the American Burn Association.  The affected body surface area and severity of the burn factor into the prediction of death from burn injury. The degrees of burn severity include superficial or first-degree burns, partial thickness or second-degree burns and full-thickness or third-degree burns. Superficial burns can cause pain, redness and swelling in the patient. Unless they are extensive, they do not require medical attention. Partial thickness burns affect the epidermis and dermis layers of skin. Medical staff should treat any second-degree burn that affects more than one percent of the body surface. Full-thickness burns involve all layers of the skin and sometimes the muscles and bones. Third-degree burns always require medical attention regardless of the size or severity.

Dermatitis – inflammation of skin or a rash. Atopic dermatitis affects at least 28 million people, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Dermatitis commonly occurs when the patient comes in contact with an allergen or irritant. Treatment of dermatitis is common performed with the help of topical ointments and cold compresses.

Herpes Zoster – commonly known as shingles. Is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox at an early age. The virus remains dormant until later in life when it is activated as shingles. Almost 1 out of every 3 people in the U.S. will develop shingles, in their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Herpes zoster can cause a painful blistering rash on the skin area along the pathway of an affected nerve root. There is a vaccine that can reduce the risk of shingles and some antiviral medications can shorten the duration of the disease. Pain medications can be taken to assist with pain control.

Hives – a skin rash triggered by a reaction to food, medicine or other irritants. About 20 percent of people will gets hives sometime during their life, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Symptoms of hives include itchy, raised, red or skin-colored welts on the skin’s surface. Hives typically go away without treatment. Get treatment if hives last more than six weeks.

Measles – also known as rubeola, it is a viral infection that is preventable by vaccine. In 2016, about 85% of children in the world received the measles vaccine, according to the World Health Organization. Measles spreads through the air by respiratory droplets from coughing and sneezing. Symptoms usually appear after 10 days of exposure and cause a cough, runny nose, inflamed eyes, sore throat, fever, and a red, blotchy skin rash. Measles typically resolves within a few days or weeks and fever reducers can help with the symptoms.

Psoriasis – common chronic, inflammatory skin disorder. Almost 7.5 million people have psoriasis in the U.S., according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Although psoriasis is most likely an inherited autoimmune disorder, it is usually dormant until the patient experiences stress or anxiety. The skin will break out in silvery and scaly skin lesions that are itchy. Psoriasis can also cause joint pain. This skin disorder can typically be treated with anti-inflammatory drugs and therapeutic ointments.

Skin Cancer – skin cancer develops from cells in the skin’s epidermis. It is common in people that have had excessive exposure to sunlight. Each year, in the U.S., over 3.3 million people are treated for nonmelanoma skin cancer, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. The most common skin cancers are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, and the deadliest of skin cancers is malignant melanoma.

Warts – harmless skin growths that most commonly appear on the hands, feet and face. Warts are caused by a virus and can look different depending on the situation. They can be smooth, flat, rough, raised, dark, small and/or large. Warts are removed by over the counter medication, surgery, lasers, freezing or burning.

Interested in learning more about the body’s skin, the integumentary system and how it affects patient’s health? Ready to become a medical assistant? Gwinnett Colleges & Institute offers medical assisting courses to gain essential skills and training. The core curriculum focuses on the medical assisting skills and training you will need to seek entry-level employment in physicians’ offices, clinics, hospitals, and other medical settings needing the services of associates trained in both front and back office medical assisting skills. These medical assisting courses will be the first step in starting a rewarding career.