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The emotional blight of acne

Acne, which is probably one of the most common skin conditions affecting the general population, especially teenagers and young adults, can  have a profound impact on the quality of life and overall wellbeing of patients socially and emotionally.  However, it is important to not presume that this is only for people with severe symptoms, as those with milder disease also report a significant impact on their daily lives.

In a Stiefel-sponsored analysis of the multinational real-world GfK Disease Atlas, Impact on Quality of Life Among Mild to Moderate Adult (18+) Acne Patients, presented today at the European Academy for Dermatology and Venereology meeting in Vienna, it was found that even patients who had been diagnosed with mild acne experienced a moderate effect on their quality of life and those with moderate acne reported a very large  effect on their quality of life, including areas such as not wanting to go out to meet new people, and low self-esteem.

Women with moderate acne were more affected than men, reporting that they felt more negative about all four of the areas in the survey which included their symptoms, their emotional health, social life and how they felt about themselves.  And the psychosocial factors were found to have a stronger impact on quality of life than the physical symptoms.

In all, the researchers looked at 323 acne patients aged 18 years and over from eight countries including the UK, the USA, Germany, China, India, Japan, South Korea and Brazil, with the data collected from December 2014 through March 2015.

Recognising that acne has significant psychological implications is an important step towards ensuring that patients receive support that targets not only the physical but also the emotional impact of symptoms. It is, therefore, critical for the management of acne to include consideration of a patient’s overall wellbeing, and not base management solely on physical symptoms.

At least initially, most people self-treat their acne and use OTC products to help control visible signs. This may be an area where pharmacists can play a greater role – at Stiefel we put a lot of effort into ensuring that pharmacists have the information they need to guide people who are keen to manage their symptoms on their own. However, pharmacists are also in the ideal position to consider when to advise people if they may need to step up the management of their condition and make an appointment with a doctor.

The Internet and social media can help to reduce the isolation many acne sufferers say they feel because of their skin condition. Telemedicine is also an exciting area. As the dermatology division of GSK, we have developed apps that help people monitor and track their condition, their symptoms and the impact on their daily lives, including the option to share details with nominated healthcare professionals, using encrypted sharing tools, in order to have a more informed conversation.

This area of research is really key so that we can better understand not only the physical symptoms but also the psychosocial implications of skin conditions and ensure that we are appreciating the patient experience and expectations on all levels.  Furthermore, there appears to be an intrinsic link between the psychosocial aspects and the physical symptoms of the condition – for example, acne can cause stress and, in turn, stress can exacerbate acne.  We need to better understand this and appreciate the whole patient experience of living with skin conditions in order to try to help patients to break out of this vicious cycle or, at the very least, minimise the impact of the condition on the quality of their daily lives.

Dr Karen Langfeld
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