Eczema is a persistent and itchy skin condition. Symptoms, which include dry, red, inflamed skin, can, at times, interfere with your daily life. As if these symptoms weren’t enough, people with eczema also have to worry about other health conditions that frequently accompany eczema, one of which is heart disease.
What the science says
In a study released May 2018 people with severe eczema were found to have an increased risk of cardiovascular problems. Previous research has been mixed. For example, a study published in 2015 also found people with eczema were more prone to heart disease and stroke, but a study completed in 2017 suggested there wasn’t a link.
In the most recent study, eczema was associated with small increased risk of cardiovascular events. However, for people with severe eczema, there was a small increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. The authors of the study indicated they were not sure why there is a link or whether the two conditions are directly connected or if treatments may play a role.
In this study, researchers looked at the medical records of more than 380,000 patients and found that individuals with eczema have higher risk of non-fatal cardiovascular disease – 20 percent higher for heart failure and 10 percent higher for stroke with no increased risk for death. However, people with severe eczema had a 41 percent increased risk of heart attack, a 69 percent increased risk of heart failure, a 22 percent increased risk of stroke, and a 38 percent higher risk of cardiovascular disease as compared to people without eczema.
The authors aren’t sure why this connection exists. But in the 2015 study, the researchers noticed that those with eczema were more likely to drink alcohol and exercise less. These unhealthy habits may contribute to the higher rate of heart disease. Other potential causes for the connection include chronic inflammation, explains Jonathan Silverberg, M.D., Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, in an American Academy of Dermatology statement, or the body releasing anti-inflammatory substances to fight skin irritation and infections.
Talking to your doctor about heart health
Based on the potential connection between eczema and heart disease, it makes sense that those with eczema should have a discussion with their doctor about their cardiovascular and stroke risks. Start with your primary care doctor per SecondsCount.org, a public information website hosted by the Society of Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions (SCAI), and if needed, request a referral to a cardiologist. When talking to your doctor, be sure to let them know of any family members who have cardiovascular disease. Your doctor may also ask you a series of questions, such as exercise habits and whether you smoke, to determine your overall risk. In addition, you may want to ask the following questions:
Is my blood pressure within normal range? If not, what can I do to reduce it?
How much physical activity should I be getting?
What types of diet changes can I make?
What is my body mass index? What does that mean?
Should I be seeing a cardiologist on a regular basis?
When to see a doctor
It can be difficult to know when you should see a doctor. Sometimes symptoms are not a sign of heart disease but could be indigestion or another medical condition. Other times signs of heart disease could go on for years without you ever developing a serious condition.
The following are early warning signs of heart disease according to American Heart Association, and signal that you should seek medical advice:
- Become easily tired and short of breath when completing normal daily activities
- Coughing, wheezing, difficulty breathing
- Swelling of ankles, legs, thighs and abdomen
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling light-headed
- Confusion or impaired thinking
- Rapid heart rate
It is better to contact your doctor and for a health scare only rather than to ignore signs of a serious heart condition.
Other health complications
Eczema is not just skin-deep Dr. Silverberg explains in the AAD statement. Besides heart disease, eczema can have a serious impact on your quality of life and overall health. People with eczema have an increased risk of developing asthma, allergic rhinitis (hay fever,) food allergies and obesity. These conditions may be related to eczema-related inflammation affecting the entire body or eczema symptoms negatively impacting sleep and health habits.
In addition, people with eczema have an increased risk of multiple types of infection, including bacterial skin infections, cellulitis. And eczema can affect the immune system, which puts you at risk of internal infections, such as upper respiratory infections or urinary tract infections.