The Unexpected Health Risks Eczema Patients Face

What does an itchy, uncomfortable and chronic skin condition have to do with heart health? For people with eczema, the condition could affect more than your skin.

Eczema, also called atopic dermatitis, affects between 10 and 20 percent of children and from one to three percent of adults, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. The dry, itchy rash affects people of all races and skin colors. Symptoms usually start in childhood and may come and go throughout a personís lifetime, and itís rare for adults to develop the condition if they didnít have it as children. Eczema is not contagious and dermatologists arenít exactly sure why some people get it. They do know, however, that eczema often runs in families, and patients frequently suffer from asthma and hay fever, too.

And now it appears that the condition is more than just a "skin thing." According to research from Northwestern University published recently in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, people with eczema are at increased risk for cardiovascular [heart and blood vessel] disease, as well as other health problems.

Investigators studied data from a total of close to 62,000 adults from the 2010 and 2012 National Health Interview Surveys. They found that eczema patients were more likely to have several potentially serious health conditions, including obesity (a 54 percent higher risk); high blood pressure (48 percent); diabetes (42 percent), and high cholesterol (36 percent). They were more likely to smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol frequently, and were less likely to exercise regularly.

What Do The Results Mean?

QualityHealth asked Joyce Davis, MD, a dermatologist in private practice in New York City, for her thoughts on the troubling findings. "A couple of points jump out at me about that story," Davis began. "First, when a patient has poorly controlled eczema/atopic dermatitis, exercising can be painful. The sweat irritates the areas of eczema and skin can become infected. Second, the atopic triad of eczema, asthma, and hay feverówith these running together in families and often in the same individual, [this] can mean that exercising options might be limited, if activity triggers their asthma." She adds that this decreased exercise ability may cause the higher risk of cardiovascular problems.

Advice for Eczema Patients

What should you do if you have eczema? First of all, see a dermatologist for diagnosis and treatment options. Your physician may recommend that you also see an allergist to identify triggers that may exacerbate your symptoms. You can support your overall health and reduce your risk for heart disease, obesity, and diabetes by avoiding unhealthy habits like cigarette smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and a sedentary lifestyle, and by adding exercise and a healthy diet to your life.

Joyce Davis, MD, reviewed this article.


Davis, Joyce, MD. Email message to author, May 15, 2015.

Silverberg, Jonathan, Philip Greenland. "Eczema and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in 2 US Adult Population Studies." Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 135, 3 (2015): 721-728e6. DOI: 10.1016/j.jaci.2014.11.023

"Atopic Dermatitis." American Academy of Dermatology. Page accessed May 19, 2015.

Northwestern University. "Eczema Woes Not Just Skin Deep." ScienceDaily. January 15, 2015.