Dermatologists explain the effect stress can have on the autoimmune condition.

By Kathleen Felton
Updated January 06, 2017
2016 Getty Images
| Credit: Getty Images

After a three-month hiatus, Kim Kardashian West returned to social media this week with a series of adorable photos of North and Saint. But a recent tweet has fans concerned about the reality star’s well-being.

Kardashian West, 36, suffers from psoriasis, an autoimmune disease that causes raised red, white, or silvery patches on the skin. On Thursday night, Kardashian West revealed she's experiencing a flare in a new location: "Wait why am I now getting psoriasis on my face," she wrote on Twitter.

It's been a difficult three months for Kardashian West, who was robbed at gunpoint in her hotel room in Paris on October 3. In November, her husband, Kanye West, was hospitalized for exhaustion after canceling his tour; People reported that the rapper then lived apart from his family while undergoing outpatient treatment for undisclosed mental health issues.

Experts say it's possible all that stress could have aggravated Kardashian West's psoriasis. "There has always been a theoretical connection with stress and [the] worsening of many skin conditions," Kally Papantoniou, MD, a New York City-based dermatologist, explained to Health via email. (Dr. Papantoniou has not treated Kardashian West.)

While there isn't research that proves a cause-and-effect relationship, many patients claim that reducing stress helps ease their symptoms. And in one Scandinavian survey, more than two-thirds of respondents said that their psoriasis was exacerbated by stress. According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, women may be particularly susceptible to stress-related flares.

"There are a number of pathways related to how stress can worsen psoriasis, and the nervous system has been shown to have a significant role in this phenomenon," Dr. Papantoniou said. "The impact of sympathetic nerves in the skin can lead to a series of immune and inflammatory changes in the skin, which flare skin diseases such as psoriasis."

Angela Lamb, MD, a dermatologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City (who also has not treated Kardashian West), reminds her psoriasis patients that the skin is the largest organ: "Any time you have stress and anxiety in your life, it will impact you by changing your body chemistry and that immune balance. It only makes sense when that changes you will have flares of psoriasis," she wrote in an email.

"The best thing would be for [a psoriasis patient] to come up with good stress and anxiety coping strategies," Dr. Lamb added. Such strategies might include attending a support group, working with a therapist, or learning meditation.

Dr. Papantoniou also recommends that stressed-out psoriasis patients add more anti-inflammatory foods to their diets, and limit dairy and refined carbohydrates, which are among the worst foods for psoriasis.

"It's important to eat healthy and take care of yourself," she said. "Psoriasis can improve with diet modification for many patients. It's also linked to heart disease and other risk factors, which makes it that much more important to eat right."

This isn't the first time Kardashian West has talked publicly about her autoimmune disease. She was first diagnosed in 2010, after her mom, Kris Jenner (who also has psoriasis), recognized the rash on her daughter's legs. In September, Kardashian West shared some of her strategies for managing the condition on her app, such as applying a topical cortisone ointment at night, and avoiding acidic foods like tomatoes and eggplants.

"After this many years, I’ve really learned to live with it," she wrote. "I'm always hoping for a cure, of course, but in the meantime, I'm learning to just accept it as part of who I am."