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Drug-induced pigmentation in Adult
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Drug-induced pigmentation in Adult

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Contributors: William Schaffenburg MD, Susan Burgin MD
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Drug-induced pigmentation or hyperpigmentation may be caused by multiple drugs and through a number of differing mechanisms. Perhaps the most common reaction is post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, as typically seen following inflammatory drug eruptions or fixed drug eruptions. Other mechanisms include cutaneous deposition of the drug or its metabolites, increased melanin synthesis, "pigment incontinence" from damage to melanocytes in the basal layer of the epidermis, or increased lipofuscin synthesis.

Increased melanin most often produces a brownish pigmentation in the dermis. When active compounds deposit in the dermis, however, there may be associated brown, red-brown, blue-black, or blue-gray discoloration. Drugs known to have such an effect are metals (eg, silver, gold, mercury, and bismuth), antimalarials, phenothiazines, amitriptyline, oral contraceptive pills, carbamazepine, gabapentin, lamotrigine, clozapine, amiodarone, clofazimine, minocycline, chemotherapeutic agents, and treatments for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) suppression. Quinacrine causes a diffuse yellow color.

Agents used to treat HIV-infected patients have been shown to primarily cause skin and nail hyperpigmentation, and nail hyperpigmentation is one of the most common cutaneous side effects of antiretroviral therapy. Generally, hyperpigmentation caused by antiretroviral agents is dose-dependent and reversible.

A number of chemotherapeutic agents are also associated with hyperpigmentation, including carmustine, bleomycin, cisplatin, busulfan, doxorubicin, fluorouracil, hydroxyurea, mitoxantrone, vinorelbine, thiotepa, methotrexate, ifosfamide, cyclophosphamide, and docetaxel.

Related topics: Drug-Induced Flagellate Pigmentation, Amiodarone Drug-Induced Pigmentation, Minocycline Drug-Induced Pigmentation, Drug-Induced Hypopigmentation, Drug-Induced Oral Pigmentation, Drug-Induced Nail Pigment


T50.995A – Adverse effect of other drugs, medicaments and biological substances, initial encounter

110284009 – Drug-induced pigmentation

Look For

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Diagnostic Pearls

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Differential Diagnosis & Pitfalls

Always have Kaposi sarcoma in the differential diagnosis of hyperpigmentation in HIV-infected individuals (and have a low threshold to biopsy).

Nail and skin hyperpigmentation have been observed in HIV / AIDS patients independent of HAART. Thus, pigmentary alteration in this population may be especially difficult to attribute to drugs.

Best Tests

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Management Pearls

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Drug Reaction Data

Below is a list of drugs with literature evidence indicating an adverse association with this diagnosis. The list is continually updated through ongoing research and new medication approvals. Click on Citations to sort by number of citations or click on Medication to sort the medications alphabetically.

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Last Reviewed: 10/28/2016
Last Updated: 01/09/2017
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Drug-induced pigmentation in Adult
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Drug-induced pigmentation : Black color, Blue color, Brown color, Green color, Hyperpigmented patches
Clinical image of Drug-induced pigmentation
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