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Can online mindfulness and self-compassion training improve quality of life for patients with atopic dermatitis?



Adding online mindfulness and self-compassion training to usual care may improve quality of life (QOL) in adults with atopic dermatitis (AD), according to results of a small randomized controlled trial in Japan.

“We found that skin disease–specific QOL improved over time with a large effect size,” lead study author Sanae Kishimoto, MHS, MPH, of the School of Public Health, Graduate School of Medicine at Kyoto University and colleagues write in JAMA Dermatology. “These findings suggest that mindfulness and self-compassion training is an effective treatment option for adults with AD.”

A bothersome disease that worsens quality of life

AD, a chronic, relapsing, inflammatory, multifactorial skin disease involving intense itching, affects an estimated 15%-30% of children and 2%-10% of adults, with the incidence increasing in industrialized countries, the authors state.

Woman meditating, taking a moment of mindfullness d3sign/Getty Images

Measured by disability-adjusted life years, AD has the highest disease burden among skin diseases, and people with AD commonly have anxiety, depression, and sleep problems. Treatments include medications, other skin care, and lifestyle changes. New biologics appear to be effective but are expensive and need to be studied for their long-term safety, the authors add.

“Stress can make the skin worse, but at the same time the skin disease and symptoms cause stress,” Peter A. Lio, MD, who was not involved in the study, told this news organization by email. “This vicious cycle contributes greatly to impairing quality of life.”

A program focused on wise, kind self-care

In the SMiLE study, the authors recruited adults with moderate to severe AD and Dermatology Life Quality Index (DLQI) score above 6 from dermatology clinics and through online announcements over 1 year beginning in July 2019.

Participants averaged 36.3 years of age, 80% were women, and their mean AD duration was 26.6 years. Everyone was allowed to receive usual care during the study, except for dupilumab (a newly marketed drug when the study started), psychotherapy, or other mindfulness training.

The researchers randomly assigned 56 adults to receive mindfulness training in addition to their usual care and 51 to the wait list plus usual care. Those in the training group received eight weekly 90-minute online mindfulness and self-compassion sessions. Each group-based session was conducted at the same time and day of the week and included meditation, informal psychoeducation, inquiry, and a short lecture, along with an optional 1-day silent meditation retreat at week 7 and an optional 2-hour videoconferencing booster session at week 13.

The intervention encouraged a nonjudgmental relationship with stress using mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and emphasized a compassionate relationship with oneself during suffering using mindful self-compassion (MSC). The program was developed and taught by lead author Dr. Kishimoto, a Japanese licensed clinical psychologist who has a history of AD, the paper notes.

At 13 weeks, after completing electronic assessments, patients in the training group showed greater improvement in the DLQI score than those on the wait list (between-group difference estimate, –6.34; 95% confidence interval, –8.27 to –4.41; P < .001). The standardized effect size (Cohen’s d) at 13 weeks was –1.06 (95% CI, –1.39 to –0.74).

Patients in the training group also improved more in all secondary outcomes: severity, itch- and scratch-related visual analog scales, self-compassion, mindfulness, psychological symptoms, and adherence to dermatologist-advised treatments.

They were also more likely to follow their dermatologist’s medical treatment plans, including moisturizer and topical steroid use.

One serious adverse event, endometrial cancer in one patient, was judged to be unrelated to the intervention.


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