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Skin
Skin Health

Eczema Takes Emotional Toll & Ups Disease Risk

Eczema wreaks havoc on its sufferers’ lives with health problems that are more than skin deep, according to researcher at Northwestern University Medicine in Chcago, Adults who have eczema — a chronic itchy skin disease that often starts in childhood — have higher rates of smoking, drinking alcoholic beverages, and obesity and are less likely to exercise than adults who don’t have the disease, reports the study that was published in January 2015 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

A release from the university notes that these unhealthy behaviors give eczema sufferers a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol, as well as diabetes. The 10 percent of adults in the U.S. who have eczema also have higher rates of insomnia than the general population. The study analyzed data for 27,157 and 34,525 adults aged 18 to 85 years from the 2010 and 2012 National Health Interview Survey. The Northwestern study reported patients with eczema had 54 percent higher odds of being morbidly obese, 48 percent higher odds of hypertension, up to 93 percent higher odds of having pre-diabetes and up to 42 percent higher odds of having diabetes. They also had 36 percent higher odds of high cholesterol.

The release quotes lead study author Dr. Jonathan Silverberg as saying, “This disease takes a huge emotional toll on its sufferers, like chronic pain. Because eczema often starts in early childhood, people are affected all through their developmental years and adolescence. It hurts their self-esteem and identity. That’s part of why we see all these negative behaviors.”

Silverberg is an assistant professor of dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a dermatologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. He also is director of the Northwestern Medicine Multidisciplinary Eczema Center.

Adding to eczema patients’ health woes is difficulty exercising because sweat and heat aggravate the itching. “They will avoid anything that triggers the itch,” Silverberg said. “Patients report their eczema flares during a workout. This opens our eyes in the world of dermatology that we’re not just treating chronic inflammation of the skin but the behavioral, lifestyle side of things.” He maintains that dermatologists need to ask patients about their lifestyle habits such as smoking and alcohol use and offer interventions if need be. In addition, he is collaborating with colleagues in Northwestern’s department of physical therapy and human movement sciences to figure out how patients with eczema can exercise to improve their health without worsening their skin flare-ups.

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