Medical Specialties: Dermatology, Internal medicine

Clinical Definition

Xanthoma is a skin condition in which fatty deposits form beneath the epidermis. While the deposits themselves are not dangerous, they can be indicative of a serious underlying medical condition. Because xanthomas are typically caused by elevated levels of blood lipids, patients with xanthoma may have metabolic disorders such as diabetes, primary biliary cirrhosis, certain cancers or an inherited metabolic disorder like familial hypercholesterolemia.

In Our Own Words

Often a sign of an underlying medical condition such as diabetes, liver disease or high cholesterol, xanthoma is a condition in which fats build up, often under the surface of the skin, causing yellowish bumps to form. The word xanthoma refers both to the bump and the condition of having these bumps. Common among older adults and people with high levels of blood lipids, xanthoma may be a sign of other serious metabolic disorders or sometimes malignancy.


Xanthomas come in different sizes, from very small to larger than three inches in diameter and may occur anywhere on the body but are most often found on elbows, joints, tendons, knees, hands, feet and buttocks. Treating the underlying disorder and controlling blood lipids and cholesterol may help minimize this condition, but in certain cases they can also be treated chemically or with laser surgery.

Relevant Conditions
Common Types
  • Joint xanthoma
  • Xanthelasma palpebral (occurs on the eyelids)
Side Effects
  • Bump under the skin with distinct edges, often yellowish in color
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  • National Institutes of Health. “Xanthoma.” http://www.nlm.nih.gov. Accessed July 2013.
  • Farzaneh, Khezri, M.D.; Gibson, Lawrence E., M.D.; et al. “Xanthoma Disseminatum: Effective Therapy with 2-Chlorodeoxyadenosine case series.” Archives JAMA Dermatology 2011; 147 (4): pages 459-464. Accessed Sept. 2013.
  • NYU Langone Medical Center. “Xanthelasma and Xanthoma.” http://www.med.nyu.edu. Accessed Aug. 2013.

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