Uncovering the Connection: Exploring the Link Between Stress and Lichen Sclerosus

Lichen sclerosus (LS) is a concerning skin condition characterized by itchy and sometimes painful patches of skin around the female genitalia. This uncomfortable condition is considered chronic and often results in discomfort during sex and even difficulties with urination. 

Dr. Michael Coyle, a Board Certified Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgeon, continually works to get to the root of urogynecological problems to provide the most targeted treatment plans. He has spent a substantial amount of time exploring effective treatment options for LS, as well as potential underlying causes. LS can have several underlying factors to blame, but can lichen sclerosus be caused by stress? Find out more about the potential link between LS and stress below. 

Understanding Lichen Sclerosus

Lichen Sclerosus is a relatively rare and chronic inflammatory skin disease that can affect both men and women. Symptoms of LS can include thin, wrinkled-looking patches of skin that appear around the anus or vulva in women. These patches of skin can be painful and itchy, and even relatively light scratching may break open the skin because it is so delicate. 

Over time, LS often worsens. The continual damage to the skin generates scarring and skin tightening. This change in skin around the genitals can cause sexual intercourse to become uncomfortable, but may also cause discomfort while urinating or during bowel movements. 

The precise cause of LS is unknown. However, established research has uncovered hormonal, genetic, environmental, and even immune-system-response-related risk factors. For example, LS may be more common among those with an autoimmune disorder or who have low estrogen levels. Injury to the given area may also play a role. 

Lichen sclerosus is most often diagnosed through a physical examination. The doctor will also look at the patient’s existing health status and history. In some cases, a skin biopsy may be involved to support the diagnostic process. 

While LS is chronic and there is no cure, treatment options are available. Unfortunately, most treatments involve the use of topical steroids and are not always effective, and can come along with side effects with long-term use. 

Dr. Michael Coyle at the Coyle Institute in Pensacola, Florida, developed TULIP® for easy, effective lichen sclerosus treatment. TULIP® involves using a laser to break down and eliminate the lesioned LS tissue so new skin will grow. The biopsy and treatment take only about three days, and new skin generation happens slowly over about 30 days post-treatment.  

Contact Coyle Institute to learn more about LS treatment. 

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Investigating the Connection Between Stress and Lichen Sclerosus

Stress is well-established to have a detrimental effect on many parts of the body and may have a connection to LS. According to a study published in 2019 in the Open Access Journal of Urology, oxidative stress (OS) plays a role in the development, pathogenesis, and progression of LS. Researchers state that DNA damage and peroxidation of the lipids caused by OS may directly contribute to the development of LS skin lesions. 

High levels of stress take a toll on the immune system over time. The stress-induced release of cortisol generates high levels of inflammatory markers in the blood. These inflammatory markers can, in turn, have a negative impact on many body systems, including the skin. Therefore, stress could very well be an underlying factor in the development of LS. 

Other Causes of Lichen Sclerosus

Lichen sclerosus can be caused by other issues as well, such as: 

  • Hormonal changes: Changes in hormone levels, such as those that occur during menopause, may increase the risk of developing lichen sclerosus.
  • Genetics: LS may be more common in people who have a family history of the condition. 
  • Other medical conditions: People with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes or autoimmune diseases, may be more likely to develop lichen sclerosus.
  • Personal hygiene: People with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes or autoimmune diseases, may be more likely to develop lichen sclerosis.

Managing Stress to Improve LS Outcomes

There are numerous techniques that you can try for stress reduction that may be beneficial if you are at risk of LS or already have the condition. A few stress reduction techniques that may help include: 

  • Mindfulness and meditation 
  • Exercise and physical activity 
  • Getting the proper amount of sleep 
  • Ensuring a good social support network 
  • Undergoing counseling 
  • Maintaining a balanced nutrition plan

Taking a more holistic approach to LS treatment through stress management and other methodologies can be desirable for a few reasons. For one, you may better target the condition’s underlying cause to lower the incidence of ongoing lesion development. Further, holistic approaches do not come along with concerning side effects, which can be an issue with topical steroid treatment. 

If you have what you suspect to be LS, it is always a good idea to seek a doctor’s advice. Creating a comprehensive treatment plan may slow the progression of the condition and deter later complications like skin scarring and painful intercourse. 

Manage Stress for LS: Explore Coyle Institute’s Treatments

In general, stress management is important for overall psychological and physical well-being. With a viable connection between stress and LS due to the link between cortisol and inflammation, stress management for LS is also important. If you have been diagnosed with lichen sclerosus, discuss your condition and develop a comprehensive treatment plan with your healthcare provider. 

To learn more about the innovative treatment options for LS available at Coyle Institute, reach out to schedule an exam by calling 850-637-8258.

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