Is your face trying to tell you something? Although new medical research has discovered the red-faced appearance of rosacea may serve as a potential signal for serious but less visible illnesses, only a small fraction of those suffering from this widespread, often embarrassing disorder are currently being treated. The National Rosacea Society (NRS) has designated April as Rosacea Awareness Month to alert the public to the early warning signs of this chronic and conspicuous facial condition now estimated to affect more than 16 million Americans.
“Although it’s important to note that causal relationships between rosacea and other diseases have not been determined, a growing number of studies have found associations between rosacea and increased risk for a variety of potentially serious systemic disorders — from cardiovascular disease to certain cancers and gastrointestinal disease,” said Dr. Sewon Kang, chairman of dermatology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. “Well beyond its negative effects on emotional, social and occupational well being, this provides further reason for people who suspect they may have rosacea to seek diagnosis and appropriate treatment.”
Unfortunately, according to a recent large-population study at the Wake Forest School of Medicine, an estimated 82 percent of people with rosacea are currently untreated.1 As reported in past issues of Rosacea Review, recent studies have found associations between rosacea and high blood pressure and high cholesterol, coronary artery disease, inflammatory bowel disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), allergies, respiratory diseases, rheumatoid An artist’s red wine self-portraits help her arthritis, type 1 diabetes, migraine, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as several forms of cancer, including glioma, thyroid cancer and basal cell carcinoma.
“While the list of reported associations continues to grow, it’s important to note that study parameters have not been uniform, and many confounding factors may affect their accuracy. As with any early research, further study will be needed to clarify their meaning and implications for patients,” Dr. Kang said. “That said, until these relationships are fully understood, it’s reasonable for people who suspect they may have rosacea to seek a medical evaluation of their skin and, if appropriate, obtain a general health examination as well.”
While the cause of rosacea remains unknown, a vast array of lifestyle and environmental factors has been found to trigger flare-ups of signs and symptoms in various individuals. Common rosacea triggers include sun exposure, emotional stress, hot or cold weather, wind, heavy exercise, alcohol, spicy foods, heated beverages, humidity, certain skin-care products and potentially an overabundance of Demodex mites.
“The good news is that rosacea can be effectively controlled through medical therapy and lifestyle changes,” Dr. Kang said. “As medical research continues to uncover the relationships between the health of the skin and other parts of the body, further insights may also emerge into how to treat rosacea as well as improve overall health.” Individuals with any of the following warning signs of rosacea are urged to see a dermatologist for diagnosis and appropriate treatment:
• Transient or persistent redness on the cheeks, nose, chin or forehead
• Small visible blood vessels on the face
• Bumps or pimples on the face
• Watery or irritated eyes
Wehansen B, Hill DE, Feldman SR. Most people with psoriasis or rosacea are not being treated: a large population study. Dermatol Online J 2016 Jul 15;22 (7):3.