- Erythromelalgia is a rare skin condition that causes red, warm skin.
- The cause of erythromelalgia is not completely understood, and there is no cure.
- There are ways to prevent and relieve the symptoms of erythromelalgia flares, such as by cooling the area.
What is erythromelalgia?
Erythromelalgia is a rare skin condition that commonly affects your hands or feet. It’s also known as Mitchell's disease or erythermalgia.
What are the symptoms of erythromelalgia?
The pain from erythromelalgia can come and go. These are known as flares or episodes. Flares are more common in the evening and night.
Flares often involve painful, burning areas of skin that are also:
- tender and sore to touch
Erythromelalgia usually affects the hands or feet on both sides of the body. However, you can get it in other areas, or just on one side.
Erythromelalgia can be mild, but it can also be very severe.
Flares can be made worse in warm conditions, caused by:
- warm weather
- a hot bath or shower
- wearing socks and shoes
- physical activity
CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.
What causes erythromelalgia?
The cause of erythromelalgia is not well understood. Possible causes for erythromelalgia include:
- changes in the small nerves that control sweating
- changes in how blood flow is controlled through your skin
- too many platelets (blood cells that help blood to clot when bleeding)
- inherited genetic mutations
Erythromelalgia can also be associated with conditions such as:
- some diseases of the brain and nervous system
- polycythaemia vera (too many red blood cells)
When should I see my doctor?
If you experience symptoms of erythromelalgia, see a doctor. They can diagnose the cause of your condition. They can also refer you to a specialist if needed, such as a:
- neurologist (brain doctor)
- dermatologist (skin doctor)
- rheumatologist (a doctor who treats diseases of the joints, muscles and bones)
- vascular surgeon (a doctor who treats diseases of the arteries and veins)
FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.
ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.
How is erythromelalgia diagnosed?
Because the cause of erythromelalgia is largely unknown, there is no specific test to diagnose it.
Your doctor will need to know how your skin looks and feels during an episode. It can help to take photos of your skin during a flare-up, to show your doctor.
Your doctor might also ask you to put your feet or hands in warm water. This is so they can observe how your skin reacts.
They might also ask you about your family history. This can help rule out other conditions and consider whether your symptoms may be inherited.
If you have erythromelalgia, you might be asked to have a blood test. This is to see if your erythromelalgia is caused by too many platelets or blood cells.
How is erythromelalgia treated?
Erythromelalgia can't be cured. But there are ways to cool your skin during a flare. This can help to relieve your symptoms. You can:
- raise the affected area
- immerse the area in cool water
- use a fan
- use a cool (not frozen) gel pack to the area
Wearing loose clothing and not letting yourself get too hot can also help prevent or reduce flares.
Other treatments include:
- capsaicin cream
- anticonvulsant medicines
- surgery to stop your nerve pain
If you have erythromelalgia, avoid applying ice to your affected area, as this can worsen your symptoms.
Using cold water for long periods (such as in an ice bath) can cause tissue damage and ulcers (deep sores).
Keeping the room at a steady temperature can be helpful. Avoid strenuous exercise and alcohol, as these can make your symptoms worse.
What works for one person may not work for another. Treatments can also have risks and side effects. Talk to your doctor about what treatment might be best for you.
Can erythromelalgia be prevented?
Because the cause of erythromelalgia is not well understood, it can’t be prevented.
Complications of erythromelalgia
Flares of erythromelalgia can lead to skin injury and other complications such as:
- skin ulcers
- necrosis (tissue death)
Severe erythromelalgia can cause ongoing pain and affect your quality of life. It can also interfere with walking and other activities.
Resources and support
For erythromelalgia caused by genetic mutation, support can be found through Genetic Alliance Australia.
You can also call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: December 2022