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High Rates of Suicide Among Patients with Atopic Dermatitis

Patients with atopic dermatitis are much more likely to contemplate and commit suicide than people without the skin condition, according to a study recently published in JAMA Dermatology.

Approximately 18 million adults in the United States struggle with atopic dermatitis: an itchy and inflamed rash that’s commonly found on the cheeks, arms, and legs. The chronic disease stems from an immune system malfunction and complications with the skin barrier. Many patients with atopic dermatitis also experience depression, anxiety, and embarrassment, and studies have shown that the condition can have a negative social impact on patients’ lives.

April W. Armstrong, MD, MPH, the associate dean of clinical research at the Keck School of Medicine at University of California, and group of medical student researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 15 studies and 310,681 patients featured in databases such as PubMed, Embase, PsycINFO, and Cochrane to determine the association between suicide and atopic dermatitis. They found that patients with atopic dermatitis are 44 percent more likely to consider suicide and 36 percent more likely to attempt suicide than people without the disease. They also concluded that youth female patients with atopic dermatitis have even higher rates of low self-esteem and resentment toward their appearance.

The researchers suggest that physicians should screen atopic dermatitis patients for psychological symptoms that could indicate suicidal thoughts. They also recommend treatments targeting cytokines, which have been proven to relieve depression and anxiety in patients with the condition. “By addressing the physical burden, psychosocial burden, and chronic inflammatory state of AD, we can work toward reducing suicidality in patients with AD,” write the study authors.

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