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Disease Profile

Geographic tongue

Prevalence estimates on Rare Medical Network websites are calculated based on data available from numerous sources, including US and European government statistics, the NIH, Orphanet, and published epidemiologic studies. Rare disease population data is recognized to be highly variable, and based on a wide variety of source data and methodologies, so the prevalence data on this site should be assumed to be estimated and cannot be considered to be absolutely correct.


US Estimated

Europe Estimated

Age of onset





Autosomal dominant A pathogenic variant in only one gene copy in each cell is sufficient to cause an autosomal dominant disease.


Autosomal recessive Pathogenic variants in both copies of each gene of the chromosome are needed to cause an autosomal recessive disease and observe the mutant phenotype.


dominant X-linked dominant inheritance, sometimes referred to as X-linked dominance, is a mode of genetic inheritance by which a dominant gene is carried on the X chromosome.


recessive Pathogenic variants in both copies of a gene on the X chromosome cause an X-linked recessive disorder.


Mitochondrial or multigenic Mitochondrial genetic disorders can be caused by changes (mutations) in either the mitochondrial DNA or nuclear DNA that lead to dysfunction of the mitochondria and inadequate production of energy.


Multigenic or multifactor Inheritance involving many factors, of which at least one is genetic but none is of overwhelming importance, as in the causation of a disease by multiple genetic and environmental factors.


Not applicable


Other names (AKA)

Benign migratory glossitis; Erythema migrans; Ectopic geographic tongue


Geographic tongue is a condition that causes chronic and recurrent lesions on the tongue that resemble psoriasis of the skin. It is characterized by pink to red, slightly depressed lesions with irregular, elevated, white or yellow borders. The lesions may also occur in the mucosa of the mouth and labia; this condition is called "areata migrans" because these lesions typically disappear from one area and show up in another.[1][2][3] The tongue is normally covered with tiny, pinkish-white bumps (papillae), which are actually short, fine, hair-like projections. With geographic tongue, patches on the surface of the tongue are missing papillae and appear as smooth, red "islands," often with slightly raised borders. These patches (lesions) give the tongue a map-like, or geographic, appearance. In most cases there are no symptoms but sometimes it is painful when inflamed.[4] The cause of this condition is unknown. Many researchers think it is linked with psoriasis, but more research is needed to better understand the connection. Also, hereditary and environmental factors may be involved.[4][5] The condition is benign and localized, generally requiring no treatment except reassurance. If painful, it may be treated with steroid gels or antihistamine mouth rinses.[6]


The lesions seen in geographic tongue resemble those of psoriasis. Most patients do not experience symptoms. It has been estimated that about 5% of individuals who have geographic tongue complain of sensitivity to hot or spicy foods when the their lesions are active. [2]

This table lists symptoms that people with this disease may have. For most diseases, symptoms will vary from person to person. People with the same disease may not have all the symptoms listed. This information comes from a database called the Human Phenotype Ontology (HPO) . The HPO collects information on symptoms that have been described in medical resources. The HPO is updated regularly. Use the HPO ID to access more in-depth information about a symptom.

Medical Terms Other Names
Learn More:
Percent of people who have these symptoms is not available through HPO
Autosomal dominant inheritance
Furrowed tongue
Grooved tongue
Geographic tongue


The exact cause of geographic tongue has not been identified. However, because the condition may be present in several members of the same family, genetics may increase a person's chances of developing the condition. A study by Guimarães (2007) showed that a specific variant of a gene called IL-1B (interleukin-1 beta) is associated with an increased risk of developing geographic tongue and suggests a genetic basis for the development of the disease.[5][7] Further research may result in a better understanding of the genetic influences involved in the development of geographic tongue.


Because geographic tongue is a benign (harmless) condition and does not typically cause symptoms, treatment is usually unnecessary. Even those patients who experience sensitivity to hot or spicy foods, generally do not require treatment. With severe symptoms, topical corticosteroids, zinc supplements, and topical anesthetic rinses seem to reduce the discomfort in some patients.[2][3]

Learn more

These resources provide more information about this condition or associated symptoms. The in-depth resources contain medical and scientific language that may be hard to understand. You may want to review these resources with a medical professional.

Where to Start

  • DermNet New Zealand is an online resource about skin diseases developed by the New Zealand Dermatological Society Incorporated. DermNet NZ provides information about this condition.
  • Mayo Clinic has an information page on Geographic tongue.
  • MedlinePlus was designed by the National Library of Medicine to help you research your health questions, and it provides more information about this topic.

In-Depth Information

  • Medscape Reference provides information on this topic. You may need to register to view the medical textbook, but registration is free.
  • The Monarch Initiative brings together data about this condition from humans and other species to help physicians and biomedical researchers. Monarch’s tools are designed to make it easier to compare the signs and symptoms (phenotypes) of different diseases and discover common features. This initiative is a collaboration between several academic institutions across the world and is funded by the National Institutes of Health. Visit the website to explore the biology of this condition.
  • Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM) is a catalog of human genes and genetic disorders. Each entry has a summary of related medical articles. It is meant for health care professionals and researchers. OMIM is maintained by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. 
  • PubMed is a searchable database of medical literature and lists journal articles that discuss Geographic tongue. Click on the link to view a sample search on this topic.


  1. Cummings: Otolaryngology: Head and Neck Surgery, 3rd ed. Mosby-Year Book, Inc; 1998;
  2. Rakel: Conn's Current Therapy 2007, 59th ed.. Saunders; 2007;
  3. Gonsalves WC, Chi AC, Neville BW. Common Oral Lesions: Part I. Superficial Mucosal Lesions. American Family Physician. February 2007;
  4. Keels MA. Soft tissue lesions of the oral cavity in children. UpToDate. September, 2015; https://www.uptodate.com/contents/soft-tissue-lesions-of-the-oral-cavity-in-children.
  5. Geographic tongue. Mayo Clinic. 2013; https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/geographic-tongue/basics/causes/CON-20027435.
  6. Reamy BV. Common Tongue Conditions in Primary Care. American Family Physician. March, 2010; 1;81(5):627-634. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2010/0301/p627.html.
  7. Guimarães AL, Correia-Silva Jde F, Diniz MG, Xavier GM, Horta MC, Gomez RS. Investigation of funcational gene polymorphisms: IL-1B, IL-6, and TNFA in benign migratory glossitis in Brazilian individuals. J Oral Pathol Med. 2007 Oct;

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