More than Skin Deep: Why Eczema Might Harm Bones

by Wellness Editor – MH

Eczema is not a very pleasant topic to think about, considering it’s generally associated with patches of itchy, red skin. Making eczema even more frustrating, it can be a chronic problem, developing before the age of five and occasionally lingering into adulthood. Aside from damaging the skin, eczema might also leave its mark on the skeletal system.

A Greater Risk of Fracture?

A study from Northwestern University has connected eczema to an increased likelihood of bone fractures. This conclusion was based on analysis of 34,500 adult subjects, ranging in age from 18 to 85. Out of this sizable sample group, roughly 7 percent were suffering from eczema symptoms at the time of the study. The authors found that 1.5 percent of subjects who met this criteria had sustained an injury to their bones or joints. Furthermore, 0.6 percent of these adults had fallen victim to function-limiting injuries.

At first glance, these figures may not seem to be cause for any alarm. This data becomes more noteworthy, however, when adults with eczema are compared against those without this condition. Fractures, along with other bone and joint injuries, were over twice as likely to strike eczema sufferers than those enjoying relatively unblemished skin.

Though it falls short of proving that eczema makes bones less durable, the authors contend that that this superficial problem could increase the risk of fractures, as well as other injuries that can limit the body’s functional capabilities. Further research is needed to better determine the relationship between eczema and bone health. In October 2014, the study was featured on the journal JAMA Dermatology’s website.

Eczema and Weakening Bones

Interestingly enough, the same team issued a second report on this subject in late 2014. Like the study that preceded it, this research likewise found an association between eczema and fractures. Furthermore, this condition might also factor into the onset of osteoporosis.

For this second study, the Northwestern team reviewed data from the 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Thanks to this source, the authors were able to access the health histories of nearly 5,000 adults. The subjects who participated in this survey were asked if they had been diagnosed with a number of conditions, including eczema and osteoporosis. NHANES researchers also documented how often these adults suffered various bone fractures, and also measured the participants’ bone density.

Among those who participated in the NHANES survey, broken bones were a much more common occurrence than eczema. Almost one out of every three people analyzed by the authors had sustained a fracture, whereas eczema had been diagnosed in only seven percent of respondents. Bone fracture rates appeared to have been affected by the subjects’ skin health. More than four in ten (41 percent) of eczema sufferers had broken at least one bone in the past. In contrast, fractures had occurred in about 32 percent of adults without this skin issue.

Hip and spine fractures were likewise more a problem for respondents with a history of eczema, afflicting more than six percent of such subjects. These injuries were less commonplace in the non-eczema group, with four percent claiming to have suffered broken hip and spinal bones.

The Impact of Inflammation

There are multiple explanations for why fractures and osteoporosis could pose a greater threat to those with eczema. Dr. Jonathan I. Silverberg, one of the study’s two authors, told Reuters Health that “it may be that chronic inflammation occurring in eczema may directly impact upon bone mineral density.” In summarizing their findings, the authors note that additional studies will be needed to solidify the possible connection between eczema, osteoporosis and bone fracture risk. The online version of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology published the report in December 2014.

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