Dermatologic symptoms can be associated with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in several situations: (1) as features of some core PTSD symptoms, such as intrusion symptoms manifesting as cutaneous sensory flashbacks, as autonomic arousal manifesting as night sweats and idiopathic urticaria, and as dissociation manifesting as numbness and dermatitis artefacta; (2) the cutaneous psychosomatic effects of emotional and physical neglect and sexual abuse (eg, infantile eczema, cutaneous self-injury, and body-focused repetitive behaviors such as trichotillomania and skin picking disorder) and eating disorders, which can have dermatologic effects; (3) the direct effect of physical or sexual abuse or catastrophic life events (eg, earthquakes) on the skin; and (4) as a result of significant alterations in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal and sympatho-adrenal medullary axes, which can affect neuroendocrine and immune functions, and can lead to exacerbations of stress-reactive inflammatory dermatoses such as psoriasis, chronic urticaria, and atopic dermatitis. Elevated levels of inflammatory biomarkers and impaired epidermal barrier function have been reported in situations involving sustained psychologic stress and sleep deprivation. Some PTSD patients show hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis hyporesponsiveness and higher circulating T lymphocytes, which can exacerbate immune-mediated dermatologic disorders. PTSD should be considered an underlying factor in the chronic, recurrent, or treatment-resistant stress-reactive dermatoses and in patients with self-induced dermatoses.
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