FRIDAY, Jan. 23, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Adults with eczema -- a chronic, itchy skin disease that often starts in childhood -- may also have an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, according to a new study.
This increased risk may be the result of bad lifestyle habits or the disease itself.
"Eczema is not just skin deep," said lead researcher Dr. Jonathan Silverberg, an assistant professor of dermatology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. "It impacts all aspects of patients' lives and may worsen their heart-health," he said.
The researchers found that people with eczema smoke and drink more, are more likely to be obese and are less likely to exercise than adults who don't have the disease.
The findings also suggest that eczema itself may increase the risk for heart disease and stroke, possibly from the effects of chronic inflammation, he said.
"It was intriguing that eczema was associated with these disorders even after controlling for smoking, alcohol consumption and physical activity," Silverberg added.
It's important to note, however, that this study only found an association between eczema and a higher risk of other health conditions. The study wasn't designed to tease out whether or not having eczema can actually cause other health problems.
Having eczema may take a psychological toll, too, Silverberg pointed out. Since eczema often starts in early childhood, it can affect self-esteem and identity, he said. And those factors may influence lifestyle habits.
The skin condition can also make it harder to exercise, because heat and sweat make the itching worse, Silverberg said.
The study was published in a recent issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
For the study, Silverberg's team collected data on more than 61,000 adults aged 18 to 85. These adults were part of the 2010 and 2012 U.S. National Health Interview Surveys.
The researchers found that people with eczema were 54 percent more likely to be severely obese than those without the skin condition. People with eczema were also 48 percent more likely to have high blood pressure. They were also about one-third more likely to have high cholesterol than those without eczema, the study noted.
Eczema was strongly linked with sleep troubles, according to the study. People with eczema were also more likely to have pre-diabetes or diabetes than people without skin problems, the study authors said.
Silverberg noted that the lifestyle factors linked to eczema and other health conditions -- such as smoking, drinking and obesity -- can be changed.
"Patients and doctors can work together to eliminate these bad behaviors and reduce the risk for heart disease and stroke," Silverberg said.
Dr. Doris Day, a dermatologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said the stress caused by eczema may play a role in increasing the risk for heart disease and stroke.
"Eczema can have a major impact on the self-esteem and overall well-being of the patient," she said. Stress is often a trigger, leading to a worsening of the itch and rash that follows, she said.
"It's important to address the issue from the onset of the condition, even in children, to help them understand how to best handle the symptoms, both physical and emotional. Cognitive therapy along with skin care can have a major benefit in reducing symptoms and flare-ups from the stress component of the condition," Day said.
For more about eczema, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.