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Erythema nodosum

Erythema nodosum is swollen fat under the skin causing bumps and patches that look red or darker than surrounding skin. It usually goes away by itself, but it can be a sign of something serious.

Check if you have erythema nodosum

Erythema nodosum bumps on the shins
Erythema nodosum usually affects the lower legs, but it can appear on other parts of the body
Erythema nodosum bumps and red patches
Bumps and patches can feel warm, painful and firm
Erythema nodosum bump on the calf
Bumps can measure between 1cm and 5cm

You may also have flu-like symptoms, such as:

  • a high temperature
  • tiredness
  • joint and muscle pain

If you're not sure it's erythema nodosum

Check other types of lumps.

How you can ease the pain yourself

  • try ibuprofen
  • rest with your feet raised on a pillow
  • apply a cool wet compress, like a damp cloth

The colour of the bumps and patches usually changes and fades, like a bruise.

The bumps usually heal on their own within 3 to 8 weeks without leaving a scar. But other symptoms, such as joint pain, may last several weeks or months.

A pharmacist can help with erythema nodosum

If you're in pain, a pharmacist can recommend:

  • stronger painkillers
  • supportive bandages or stockings

A pharmacist may also suggest you see a GP.

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:

  • the pain is affecting your daily life
  • lots of bumps and patches start appearing
  • the bumps do not go away

Treatment from a GP

A GP should be able to tell if you have erythema nodosum by looking at the bumps and patches.

If the GP thinks a medicine you've been taking might be causing erythema nodosum, you may be advised to stop taking it. Do not stop taking your medicines without asking a GP first.

The GP might arrange some tests if erythema nodosum:

  • could be a sign of something more serious
  • has not cleared within 8 weeks

Causes of erythema nodosum

Erythema nodosum can be caused by lots of things, but often the cause is not known.

Common causes include:

Page last reviewed: 09 November 2020
Next review due: 09 November 2023