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Disease Profile

Lichen sclerosus

Prevalence estimates on Rare Medical Network websites are calculated based on data available from numerous sources, including US and European government statistics, the NIH, Orphanet, and published epidemiologic studies. Rare disease population data is recognized to be highly variable, and based on a wide variety of source data and methodologies, so the prevalence data on this site should be assumed to be estimated and cannot be considered to be absolutely correct.


US Estimated

Europe Estimated

Age of onset





Autosomal dominant A pathogenic variant in only one gene copy in each cell is sufficient to cause an autosomal dominant disease.


Autosomal recessive Pathogenic variants in both copies of each gene of the chromosome are needed to cause an autosomal recessive disease and observe the mutant phenotype.


dominant X-linked dominant inheritance, sometimes referred to as X-linked dominance, is a mode of genetic inheritance by which a dominant gene is carried on the X chromosome.


recessive Pathogenic variants in both copies of a gene on the X chromosome cause an X-linked recessive disorder.


Mitochondrial or multigenic Mitochondrial genetic disorders can be caused by changes (mutations) in either the mitochondrial DNA or nuclear DNA that lead to dysfunction of the mitochondria and inadequate production of energy.


Multigenic or multifactor Inheritance involving many factors, of which at least one is genetic but none is of overwhelming importance, as in the causation of a disease by multiple genetic and environmental factors.


Not applicable


Other names (AKA)

Lichen sclerosis; Lichen sclerosis et atrophicus; Lichen sclerosus et atrophicus


Skin Diseases


Lichen sclerosus is a chronic skin disorder that is more common in women, most often affecting the external part of the vagina (vulva) or the area around the anus. In men, it typically affects the tip of the penis. It can occur at any age but is usually seen in women over age 50. Some people have no symptoms, while others may experience itchiness (sometimes severe), discomfort, or blistering.[1][2] It often lasts for years and can cause permanent scarring. The underlying cause of lichen sclerosus is not fully understood but it is thought to relate to an autoimmune process. Treatment may include topical steroids or other types of topical creams and/or surgery.[1]


The symptoms are the same in children and adults. Early in the disease, small, subtle white spots appear. These areas are usually slightly shiny and smooth. As time goes on, the spots develop into bigger patches, and the skin surface becomes thinned and crinkled. As a result, the skin tears easily, and bright red or purple discoloration from bleeding inside the skin is common.[3]

Symptoms vary depending on the area affected. Patients experience different degrees of discomfort. When lichen sclerosus occurs on parts of the body other than the genital area, most often there are no symptoms, other than itching. If the disease is severe, bleeding, tearing, and blistering caused by rubbing or bumping the skin can cause pain.[3]

This table lists symptoms that people with this disease may have. For most diseases, symptoms will vary from person to person. People with the same disease may not have all the symptoms listed. This information comes from a database called the Human Phenotype Ontology (HPO) . The HPO collects information on symptoms that have been described in medical resources. The HPO is updated regularly. Use the HPO ID to access more in-depth information about a symptom.

Medical Terms Other Names
Learn More:
Percent of people who have these symptoms is not available through HPO
Autosomal dominant inheritance
Squamous cell carcinoma


The underlying cause of lichen sclerosus is not fully understood. The condition may be due to genetic, hormonal, irritant and/or infectious factors (or a combination of these factors). It is believed to relate to an autoimmune process, in which antibodies mistakenly attack a component of the skin. Other autoimmune conditions are reported to occur more frequently than expected in people with lichen sclerosus.[1] In some cases, lichen sclerosus appears on skin that has been damaged or scarred from previous injury or trauma.[2]


Strong topical steroid creams or ointments reportedly are very helpful for lichen sclerosus, especially when it affects the genital areas. However, the response to this treatment varies. While itching may be relieved within days, it can take weeks or months for the skin's appearance to return to normal.

Other treatments that may be used instead of steroid creams, or in combination with steroid creams, include calcipotriol cream, topical and systemic retinoids (acitretin), and/or systemic steroids.

If the vaginal opening has narrowed, dilators may be needed. In rare cases, surgery is necessary to allow for sexual intercourse. The condition sometimes causes the vaginal opening to narrow or close again after surgery is initially successful.[1]

Additional information about treatment of lichen sclerosus can be viewed on Medscape's Web site.


Support and advocacy groups can help you connect with other patients and families, and they can provide valuable services. Many develop patient-centered information and are the driving force behind research for better treatments and possible cures. They can direct you to research, resources, and services. Many organizations also have experts who serve as medical advisors or provide lists of doctors/clinics. Visit the group’s website or contact them to learn about the services they offer. Inclusion on this list is not an endorsement by GARD.

Organizations Supporting this Disease

    Organizations Providing General Support

      Learn more

      These resources provide more information about this condition or associated symptoms. The in-depth resources contain medical and scientific language that may be hard to understand. You may want to review these resources with a medical professional.

      Where to Start

      • DermNet NZ is an online resource about skin diseases developed by the New Zealand Dermatological Society Incorporated. DermNet NZ provides information about this condition.
      • The Center for Young Women's Health Children's Hospital Boston has developed an online fact sheet on lichen sclerosus that you might find helpful. Click on the link above to view this information page.
      • The MayoClinic.com also provides information on lichen sclerosus. To view this information, click on the link above.
      • The Merck Manual provides information on this condition for patients and caregivers.
      • The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) support research into the causes, treatment, and prevention of arthritis and musculoskeletal and skin diseases, the training of basic and clinical scientists to carry out this research, and the dissemination of information on research progress in these diseases. Click on the link to view information on this topic.
      • The National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD) has a report for patients and families about this condition. NORD is a patient advocacy organization for individuals with rare diseases and the organizations that serve them.

        In-Depth Information

        • Medscape Reference provides information on this topic. You may need to register to view the medical textbook, but registration is free.
        • The Monarch Initiative brings together data about this condition from humans and other species to help physicians and biomedical researchers. Monarch’s tools are designed to make it easier to compare the signs and symptoms (phenotypes) of different diseases and discover common features. This initiative is a collaboration between several academic institutions across the world and is funded by the National Institutes of Health. Visit the website to explore the biology of this condition.
        • Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM) is a catalog of human genes and genetic disorders. Each entry has a summary of related medical articles. It is meant for health care professionals and researchers. OMIM is maintained by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. 
        • Orphanet is a European reference portal for information on rare diseases and orphan drugs. Access to this database is free of charge.
        • PubMed is a searchable database of medical literature and lists journal articles that discuss Lichen sclerosus. Click on the link to view a sample search on this topic.


          1. Lichen sclerosus. DermNet NZ. February 4, 2015; https://www.dermnetnz.org/immune/lichen-sclerosus.html.
          2. Lichen Sclerosus. NIAMS. November, 2014; https://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Lichen_Sclerosus/default.asp.
          3. What Is Lichen Sclerosus?. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) . 2009; https://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Lichen_Sclerosus/default.asp. Accessed 1/8/2013.
          4. Meffert J. Lichen Sclerosus et Atrophicus. Medscape Reference. February 24, 2016; https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1123316-overview#showall.
          5. Wojanrowska F. Lichen sclerosus. Orphanet. March 2009; https://www.orpha.net/consor/cgi-bin/OC_Exp.php?lng=en&Expert=33409.
          6. Lichen Sclerosus. National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD). 2004; https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/lichen-sclerosus/.

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