Heightened levels of psychological stress has been found to be associated with skin complaints in a large, randomly selected sample of undergraduate students at TempleUniversity in Philadelphia.
“Previous studies have demonstrated an association between stress and skin symptoms, but those studies relied on small patient samples, did not use s
tandardized tools, are anecdotal in nature, or focused their analyses on a single skin disease,” said Dr. Gil Yosopovitch, chair of the Department of Dermatology at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University in Philadelphia, director of the Temple Itch Center, and corresponding author of the study, in a press release.
The study, published in the journal Acta Dermato-Venereologica (Nov. 23, 2015),was conducted at Temple University during the 2014 fall semester. Five thousand undergraduate students were invited to participate in a web-based survey in which they reported their perceived psychological stress and any skin complaints. A total of 422 students were included in the final sample size.
Respondents were divided into groupings labelled as low stress, moderate stress, and high stress. Compared to low stress subjects, the high stress group suffered significantly more often from pruritus; alopecia; oily, waxy, or flaky patches on the scalp; hyperhidrosis; scaly skin; onychophagia; itchy rash on hands; and trichotillomania. There was no association between perceived psychological stress levels and the presence of pimples, dry/sore rash, warts, and other rashes on the face.
Dermatologist should inquire about psychological stress
Despite the study limitations (e.g., low response rate, absence of physical assessment of respondents), the results are important for dermatologists who treat undergraduate-aged patients, according to Dr. Yosopovitch.
“Our findings highlight the need for health care/dermatology providers to ask these patients about their perceived levels of psychological stress,” he said. “Disease flare or exacerbation while on treatment in the setting of increased stress may not necessarily reflect treatment failure.”
He added, “These findings further suggest that non-pharmacologic therapeutic interventions should be considered for patients presenting with both skin conditions and heightened levels of psychological stress.”