A new study finds that eczema, a chronic itchy skin disease that often starts in childhood, wreaks havoc on patients’ lives.

The study from Northwestern University discovered that adults suffering from eczema have higher rates of smoking, drinking and obesity and are less likely to exercise.

These behaviors give them a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol, as well as diabetes, according to the researchers. On top of that, they also have higher rates of insomnia.

About 10 percent of adults in the U.S. have eczema, the researchers reported.

“This disease takes a huge emotional toll on its sufferers, like chronic pain,” said dermatologist and lead study author Jonathan Silverberg, Ph.D.

“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.”

Adding to eczema patients’ health woes is difficulty exercising because sweat and heat aggravate the itching, according to Silverberg, director of the Northwestern Medicine Multidisciplinary Eczema Center.

“They will avoid anything that triggers the itch,” he 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,” Silverberg continued.

He added that dermatologists need to ask patients about their lifestyle habits, such as smoking and physical activity so they can offer interventions.

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 analysis found that 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.

Silverberg said patients should be offered interventions for alcohol and smoking by their dermatologists.

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.

The study was published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Source: Northwestern University