6 Surprising Signs of Disease Your Skin Can Reveal
Diseases like psoriasis, eczema, and rosacea aren't just skin problems. They can have an impact on your risk for other diseases.
Skin conditions and other diseases
Skin conditions can be linked to other health issues that might surprise you. That’s why doctors can see signs of disease written on your face. Here’s what your skin could reveal about your health.
Eczema: Linked to depression and anxiety
The dry, itchy, red patches of this condition may show up on areas like your neck or inner elbows. It’s incredibly common—more than 30 million Americans have eczema—and while it most often first appears in children, adults can develop it, too. One surprise, though, is the toll it can take on your mental health, says board-certified dermatologist Jonathan Silverberg, MD, PhD, an assistant professor in dermatology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Many patients feel like they’re in a bad mood or they have major depressive disorder. They don’t make the connection that a lot of it stems from having a skin disease,” he says. Treating eczema (with a prescription topical medication, for example) can relieve symptoms like itching that disturb sleep. That in turn can reduce the stress you may feel about the disease.
Psoriasis: Associated with heart disease
This autoimmune disease causes raised, rough, scaly patches on your skin, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation. It also can be related to some serious health issues. The foundation points out that research shows people with a severe form of psoriasis are 58 percent more likely to have a “major cardiac event” and 43 percent more likely to have a stroke. “There may be certain inflammatory markers involved in both psoriasis and the development of plaque in arteries,” says Dr. Silverberg. It also may have to do with the strong medications that patients often have to take to control the disease that contribute to side effects, adds Marie Jhin, MD, board-certified dermatologist in San Francisco.
Rosacea: May be connected to Alzheimer’s
Of the 16 million Americans with rosacea—a condition marked by skin redness and flushing—most aren’t receiving treatment because they don’t know they have it, according to the National Rosacea Society. The skin condition is linked to a 28 percent increased risk of dementia in women, per 2016 research in the Annals of Neurology. It’s emerging research, but if you have rosacea—especially if you’re over 60, the study notes—you should talk to your doctor about any cognitive problems you’re experiencing.
Vitiligo: Increases risk of thyroid problems
This skin condition leads to loss of pigment in the skin, explains Courtney Schadt, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Louisville. “It’s caused by the immune system attacking the cells in the skin that make the pigment called melanin,” she explains. It, too, may share similar pathways as other autoimmune conditions, most commonly thyroid disease. “I screen all patients for symptoms of these other conditions, and do blood work if needed,” says Dr. Schadt. If necessary, encourage your dermatologist to do the same.
Skin cancer: Raises risk for other cancers
If you’ve beaten a melanoma diagnosis, you never want to hear the “C” word again. But, as the American Cancer Society notes, melanoma survivors are at an increased risk for another skin cancer as well as other seemingly non-related cancers like breast cancer, prostate cancer, and kidney cancer. To lower your risk of a secondary cancer, the ACS suggests taking these smart steps: be vigilant about limiting UV exposure, stay active, eat a healthy plant-based diet, and stick to one alcoholic drink per day (two for men).
Dry, itchy skin: Associated with ADHD
When your skin won’t stop itching, it can become so distracting. Constant scratching can bother you all night, making sleep deprivation a problem. For those reasons, researchers believe that atopic dermatitis (the most common form of eczema) has roots in both child and adult ADD and ADHD. In a study published in the British Journal of Dermatology, adult patients had a 61 percent elevated risk of these disorders, with the people at the most risk being those who also have headaches and insomnia. Your best bet: Talk to your doctor if you’ve been diagnosed with atopic dermatitis/eczema and you’re experiencing ADHD symptoms like problems focusing on a task, poor time management skills, and impulsiveness.
Next up, these dermatologists share the worst skin care advice they want you to stop believing.
- Jonathan Silverberg, MD, PhD, an assistant professor in dermatology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago
- National Eczema Society: "What is Eczema?"
- National Psoriasis Foundation: "About Psoriasis"
- Marie Jhin, MD, board-certified dermatologist in San Francisco
- National Rosacea Society: "Rosacea Now Estimated To Affect At Least 16 Million Americans"
- Annals of Neurology: "Patients with rosacea have increased risk of dementia"
- Courtney Schadt, MD, assistant professor in dermatology at the University of Louisville
- American Cancer Society: "Living as a Melanoma Skin Cancer Survivor"
- American Journal of Epidemiology: "Risk Factors and Preventions of Breast Cancer"
- British Journal of Dermatology: "Association between atopic dermatitis and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in U.S. children and adults"