Erythema nodosum

Dermatol Online J. 2002 Jun;8(1):4.


Erythema nodosum is the most frequent clinico-pathological variant of the panniculitides. The disorder is a cutaneous reaction consisting of inflammatory, tender, nodular lesions, usually located on the anterior aspects of the lower extremities. The process may be associated with a wide variety of diseases, being infections, sarcoidosis, rheumatologic diseases, inflammatory bowel diseases, medications, autoimmune disorders, pregnancy, and malignancies the most common associated conditions. The typical eruption consists of a sudden onset of symmetrical, tender, erythematous, warm nodules and raised plaques usually located on the shins, ankles and knees. Often the lesions are bilaterally distributed. At first, the nodules show a bright red color, but within a few days they become livid red or purplish, and finally they exhibit a yellow or greenish appearance taking on the look of a deep bruise. Ulceration is never seen and the nodules heal without atrophy or scarring. Some clinical variants of erythema nodosum have been described under different names, including erythema nodosum migrans, subacute nodular migratory panniculitis, and chronic erythema nodosum, but probably they are just clinical variants which may all be included within the spectrum of erythema nodosum. Histopathologically, erythema nodosum is the stereotypical example of a mostly septal panniculitis with no vasculitis. The septa of subcutaneous fat are always thickened and variously infiltrated by inflammatory cells that extend to the periseptal areas of the fat lobules. The composition of the inflammatory infiltrate in the septa varies with age of the lesion. In early lesions edema, hemorrhage, and neutrophils are responsible for the septal thickening, whereas fibrosis, periseptal granulation tissue, lymphocytes, and multinucleated giant cells are the main findings in late stage lesions of erythema nodosum. A histopathologic hallmark of erythema nodosum is the presence of the so-called Miescher's radial granulomas, which consist of small, well-defined nodular aggregations of small histiocytes arranged radially around a central cleft of variable shape. Treatment of erythema nodosum should be directed to the underlying associated condition, if identified. Usually, nodules of erythema nodosum regress spontaneously within a few weeks, and bed rest is often sufficient treatment. Aspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as oxyphenbutazone, indomethacin or naproxen, and potassium iodide may be helpful drugs to enhance analgesia and resolution. Systemic corticosteroids are rarely indicated in erythema nodosum and before these drugs are administered an underlying infection should be ruled out.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Erythema Induratum / diagnosis
  • Erythema Nodosum* / diagnosis
  • Erythema Nodosum* / etiology
  • Erythema Nodosum* / pathology
  • Erythema Nodosum* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Prognosis