Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content


3-minute read

Erythromelalgia is a rare skin condition that causes a burning pain, heat and red skin, usually on the hands or feet. You can talk to your doctor about the different treatments available, but lifting and cooling the affected limb can help.

Erythromelalgia is also called Mitchell's disease or erythermalgia.

Causes of erythromelalgia

There are two types of erythromelalgia – primary and secondary.

Primary erythromelalgia doesn’t have a known cause. It can run in families, but this is quite rare.

Secondary erythromelalgia has a known cause. It can be caused by too many platelets, which are blood cells that help blood to clot when bleeding. Other causes include:

Symptoms of erythromelalgia

Flare-ups often begin with a mild itch. The itch gradually changes to burning pain. The painful area becomes red, swollen and sometimes 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.

The pain can come and go, and is more common in the evening and night. The pain is relieved by cooling the area or elevating it.

Erythromelalgia can be mild, but it can also be very severe. It can be worse in warm weather, or when your hands and feet get hot (for example, wearing socks and shoes). Severe erythromelalgia can cause ongoing pain and affect your quality of life. It can also interfere with walking and other activities.

Diagnosis of erythromelalgia

To diagnose erythromelalgia, your doctor will need to know how it looks and feels during an attack. 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 so they can see what happens.

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.

Treatment of erythromelalgia

Erythromelalgia can't be cured, but primary erythromelalgia sometimes gets better by itself.

Many people find gently cooling the area helps. Raising the affected area can also help.

If you have erythromelalgia, wearing loose clothing and not letting yourself get too hot can help prevent or reduce attacks.

Keeping the room at a steady temperature can be helpful. Avoiding strenuous exercise or wearing too much clothing can also help.

Other treatments that have helped some people include:

  • aspirin
  • capsaicin cream
  • anticonvulsant medicines (such as gabapentin)
  • antidepressants (for example, tricyclics)
  • calcium channel blocker medication
  • anaesthetic medication through a drip
  • surgery to stop the nerve pain

Using cold water for long periods (such as in an ice bath) is not recommended as it can cause tissue damage and ulcers.

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.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: July 2018

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

ACD A-Z of Skin - Erythromelalgia

A-Z OF SKIN Erythromelalgia BACK TO A-Z SEARCH What is erythromelalgia? Erythromelalgia is a rare skin condition mainly seen in people aged over 60

Read more on Australasian College of Dermatologists website

Primary erythromelalgia | HealthEngine Blog

Primary erythromelalgia is a rare condition in which skin redness, increased body temperature and painful hands and feet occur during or after exercise.

Read more on HealthEngine website

Myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN) - Leukaemia Foundation

Myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN) Listen What is MPN? Myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN) are cancers that start in the bone marrow, where blood cells are made

Read more on Leukaemia Foundation website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo