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Heart Disease and Eczema: Is There a Connection?

Posted on November 15, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D.
Article written by
Imee Williams

Eczema, or atopic dermatitis — a chronic inflammatory skin condition — is associated with an increased risk of several other conditions. In particular, research suggests that severe eczema in adults is associated with cardiovascular (heart) disease.

Evidence of the association comes from a large study published in the BMJ, which found that relative to the general population, people with severe eczema had:

  • A 20 percent higher risk of a stroke
  • A 40 percent to 50 percent greater risk of heart attack (blocked blood flow to the heart), atrial fibrillation (irregular heart rhythm), and sudden cardiac death
  • A 70 percent higher risk of heart failure (when the heart doesn’t pump enough blood for the body’s needs)

Another meta-analysis review showed that adults with predominantly active and severe eczema have a higher risk of heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), and stroke. As someone’s eczema increased in severity, their risk of heart disease also increased.

This article explains the connection between heart disease and eczema, as well as ways to prevent or manage these conditions.

How Is Eczema Related to Heart Disease?

More research is needed to fully understand the connection between eczema and heart disease.

It’s believed that eczema does not directly cause heart disease. Eczema is an inflammatory process, and although not proven to cause heart disease, inflammation is common for people with heart disease. Also, eczema symptoms such as severe itching during the day and night can affect a person’s behavior and influence the risk of developing heart disease. About 25 percent of adults with eczema self-report having fair or poor overall health. The side effects of extremely dry and itchy skin may lead to long-term health consequences — such as sleep disorders, mental health disorders, and significantly reduced physical activity — that may also put a person at risk for heart disease.

Some eczema treatments may also increase heart disease risk. For instance, long-term steroid use may lead to high blood pressure.

Heart disease and eczema share some common risk factors that may help explain the connection:

  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Severe alcohol use
  • Depression and anxiety
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Asthma

Experts have not found a genetic link between heart disease and eczema.

Symptoms of Heart Disease

Sometimes, heart disease has no symptoms. In these cases, it cannot be diagnosed until an individual has signs of a heart attack, heart failure, or irregular heartbeat. Other symptoms of heart disease may include:

  • Chest pain
  • Pain or discomfort in the upper body, neck, or back
  • Heartburn
  • Indigestion
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • A fluttering feeling in the chest (palpitations)
  • Swelling of the neck veins, feet, ankles, legs, and abdomen

See a doctor immediately if you begin to have one or more symptoms.

Managing Heart Disease

It is important to manage heart disease to stay your healthiest, feel your best, and improve your quality of life. Heart disease can be treated and managed by lifestyle changes and medications. In some cases, surgery may be needed.

Lifestyle Changes

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following tips to prevent heart disease:

  • Stop or avoid smoking.
  • Limit alcohol.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Maintain a weight that’s healthy for you.
  • Manage stress through relaxation techniques.
  • Avoid foods high in saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and added sugar.

In addition, the CDC recommends checking your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar levels regularly if you have severe eczema or are at risk of hypertension, high cholesterol, or diabetes. Properly managing these health conditions can help reduce the risk of heart disease.

Medications

If you develop heart disease, your doctor may prescribe medications in addition to lifestyle changes to help control your condition. There are many types of drugs to treat various types of heart disease. Common heart medications include blood thinners, statins, beta-blockers, and angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors.

Surgery

In some cases, surgery or other heart procedures may be needed if heart disease is not controlled with medication. There are many types of surgeries and procedures depending on the type of heart disease:

  • Bypass surgery to increase the supply of blood and oxygen to the heart
  • Angioplasty and stent placement to increase blood flow
  • Artificial heart valve surgery to replace the diseased heart valve
  • Atherectomy to remove plaque and increase blood flow
  • Cardiomyoplasty, or insertion of a pacemaker, to improve pumping action of the heart

Heart medications may also be needed after surgery.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyEczemaTeam is the social network for people with eczema. On MyEczemaTeam, more than 39,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with eczema.

Do you have eczema? Are you also living with heart disease? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on MyEczemaTeam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D. is a dermatologist at the Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Imee Williams is a freelance writer and Fulbright scholar, with a B.S. in neuroscience from Washington State University. Learn more about her here.

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