Northwestern study finds eczema patients more likely to engage in risky behavior

Olivia Exstrum, Campus Editor

A new Northwestern Medicine study found that adults with eczema are more likely to have higher rates of smoking, drinking alcoholic beverages and obesity than their counterparts without the skin disease.

Those who engage in these types of behaviors are more likely to suffer from other health problems, such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and insomnia.

“This disease takes a huge emotional toll on its sufferers, like chronic pain,” lead author Dr. Jonathan Silverberg, said in a news release. “Because eczema often starts in early childhood, people are affected all through their developmental years and adolescence.”

About 10 percent of U.S. adults have the disease. Silverberg said patients with eczema are more likely to engage in risky behaviors because of the stigma around the disease and the frequency of low self-esteem in those who suffer from it.

Eczema patients are also less likely to engage in regular physical activity, which contributes to higher rates of obesity. Silverberg said this is because sweat and heat can inflame the skin and add to the itching sensation eczema patients experience.

Silverberg said the study shows dermatologists should focus on their patients’ lifestyle habits in addition to their disease.

“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,” Silverberg said.

The study looked at data for over 27,000 and 34,000 adults aged 18 to 85 years from the 2010 and 2012 National Health Interview Survey, respectively. The study reported eczema patients 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.”

Dermatologists should intervene if an eczema patient has an alcohol or smoking problem, Silverberg said. He is also working with the department of physical therapy and movement sciences to develop a way for eczema patients to exercise without their condition flaring up.

An assistant professor of dermatology in the Feinberg School of Medicine and a dermatologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Silverberg coauthored the study with Feinberg Prof. Philip Greenland. The study was published Jan. 8 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

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