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Cutis Laxa

By

Frank Pessler

, MD, PhD, Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research

Last full review/revision Oct 2020| Content last modified Oct 2020
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Topic Resources

Cutis laxa is a rare disorder of connective tissue that causes the skin to stretch easily and hang in loose folds.

  • This disorder is usually caused a defective gene but can occur after certain illnesses.

  • The main symptom is very loose skin.

  • The diagnosis is usually based on symptoms and results of a physical examination.

  • There is no cure for cutis laxa, but plastic surgery may help improve the appearance of the skin.

In cutis laxa, the elastic fibers (fibers that enable tissue to stretch and then spring back into place) contained in the connective tissue (the tough, often fibrous tissue that binds the body's structures together and provides support and elasticity) become loose. Sometimes only the skin is affected, but connective tissues throughout the body can be affected.

Cutis laxa is usually hereditary. In some kinds of cutis laxa, the abnormal genes cause problems unrelated to connective tissues. For example, the genes may cause disorders of the heart, lungs, or digestive tract or intellectual disability Intellectual Disability Intellectual disability is significantly below average intellectual functioning present from birth or early infancy, causing limitations in the ability to conduct normal activities of daily... read more .

Rarely, infants can develop cutis laxa after an illness that causes fever or after having an allergic reaction to penicillin. In children or adolescents, cutis laxa usually develops after a severe illness involving fever, inflammation of organs such as the lining of the lungs or heart, or erythema multiforme Erythema Multiforme Erythema multiforme is an inflammatory skin disorder characterized by patches of red, raised skin that often look like targets and usually are distributed symmetrically over the body. (See also... read more Erythema Multiforme (patches of red, raised skin). In adults, it may develop with other disorders, particularly plasma cell disorders Overview of Plasma Cell Disorders Plasma cell disorders are uncommon. They begin when a single plasma cell multiplies excessively. The resulting group of genetically identical cells (called a clone) produces a large quantity... read more .

Symptoms of Cutis Laxa

The symptoms of cutis laxa can be mild, affecting only a person’s appearance, or severe, affecting internal organs. The skin may be very loose at birth or it may become loose later. The loose skin is often most noticeable on the face, resulting in a prematurely aged appearance and a hooked nose. The lungs, heart, intestines, or arteries may be affected with a variety of severe impairments.

Although symptoms often become noticeable shortly after birth, they may begin suddenly in children and adolescents. In some people, symptoms develop gradually during adulthood.

Diagnosis of Cutis Laxa

  • A doctor's evaluation

  • Sometimes skin biopsy

A doctor can usually diagnose cutis laxa by examining the skin.

Sometimes removal of a skin tissue sample for examination under a microscope (biopsy) is necessary.

Other tests, such as echocardiography Echocardiography and Other Ultrasound Procedures Ultrasonography uses high-frequency (ultrasound) waves bounced off internal structures to produce a moving image. It uses no x-rays. Ultrasonography of the heart (echocardiography) is one of... read more Echocardiography and Other Ultrasound Procedures or a chest x-ray Plain X-Rays X-rays are high-energy radiation waves that can penetrate most substances (to varying degrees). In very low doses, x-rays are used to produce images that help doctors diagnose disease. In high... read more , may be done to look for associated disorders of the heart and lungs. People who developed cutis laxa at a young age or who have relatives who have the disorder should have genetic testing. Genetic test results may predict whether these people are at risk of passing the disorder to offspring and whether organs other than the skin will be affected.

Prognosis of Cutis Laxa

Severe impairments of the heart, lungs, arteries, or intestines can be fatal.

Treatment of Cutis Laxa

  • Sometimes plastic surgery

There is no specific treatment for cutis laxa.

Plastic surgery can often improve the appearance of the skin, but the improvement may be only temporary. Associated disorders that do not affect the skin, such as heart and lung disorders, are treated appropriately.

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