If you have eczema, you’re understandably focused on soothing the itchy and scaly rash. But far from being just an annoying skin condition, the condition could turn life-threatening in a way that many patients, and even some doctors, don’t know about.

That’s the startling finding of new research from the UK that focused on the connection between eczema and heart conditions.

What you need to know: Researchers studied the medical records of more than 387,000 adults with eczema. Compared to an age-matched group of adults without eczema, in general the people with eczema had a 10% to 20% higher risk of developing heart disease over a period of about five years. That’s worrisome enough—but the risk rose considerably more for those with very active or severe eczema.

For the study, active eczema meant that symptoms were active 50% or more of the time during the course of the study…and severe eczema meant that a patient had been referred to a specialist or had received treatment with an immune suppressing drug or phototherapy.

Those with active or severe eczema had…

  • A 20% higher risk for stroke than people without eczema
  • A 40% to 50% higher risk for angina, heart attack, atrial fibrillation or death from heart disease
  • A 70% percent higher risk of heart failure.

WHAT’S THE CONNECTION?

Eczema, sometimes called atopic dermatitis, the most common type, is a disease of inflammation, and the same inflammation that affects your skin can and does affect the rest of your body, including your heart.

This study’s findings show that eczema must now be considered a risk factor for heart disease. That means people with eczema need to start reducing their risk of heart disease as soon as possible and with more vigorous effort than someone without eczema might. The bit of good news here is that because chronic inflammation is damaging in so many ways, there’s been a lot of study devoted to it, and there are various proven ways to reduce it beyond just taking anti-inflammatory drugs.

Anything that reduces heart-disease risk (separate from the eczema question) can be helpful. Go beyond the well-known basics, such as eating a better diet, exercising and controlling your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar, by reading about “5 Tests to Determine Your Heart Disease Risk,” Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum’s blog post, “Who Needs to See a Cardiologist,” and “5 Surprising Ways to Prevent a Heart Attack.”