Some research suggests a close relationship between eczema and the gut. In particular, several studies show a link between constipation and eczema, though more research is necessary to understand this link.

Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, occurs due to inflammation and skin barrier dysfunction, which leads to dryness, itchiness, and irritation. However, symptoms of eczema are often more than skin deep.

Inflammation in eczema can cause — or be due to — other conditions that affect different organs in the body. In particular, a growing amount of research suggests a close relationship between the digestive tract and the skin, known as the gut-skin axis.

When something disrupts this axis, it can compromise the health of both systems. As a result, some people with eczema may also experience digestive issues, including constipation.

This article explains the link between eczema and constipation, including tips for managing symptoms, and other gut issues that may affect someone with eczema.

A person with eczema and constipation applying moisturizer to their leg in a bathroom.-2Share on Pinterest
Johner Images/Getty Images

Several studies have found a link between constipation and eczema.

For example, in a 2021 study with over 170,000 people from Taiwan, people with constipation were more than twice as likely to have eczema than those without constipation.

A 2014 study with over 23,000 people from the United Kingdom had similar results. In this study, people with constipation were also more than twice as likely to have eczema as those without any digestive issues.

A 2023 study with over 67,000 infants in Japan found that 1-year-old children with constipation had a slightly higher risk of eczema until they were 3 years old.

However, further research is necessary to learn whether people with eczema are more prone to constipation and to understand the underlying mechanisms between a possible link.

The skin and the lining of the gut both act as a first line of defense against environmental allergens and pathogens. The skin and the lining of the gut are exposed to billions of microbes every day.

When something compromises the barrier between the inside and outside world, such as in eczema, exposure to pathogens and allergens can cause inflammation, irritation, and other symptoms.

The same thing can happen in the gut. Constipation can cause and develop from inflammation and irritation in the gut lining or changes to the gut microbiome. This is the collection of bacteria and viruses living in the digestive tract.

Both of these factors can affect the epithelial barrier in the digestive tract, exposing the body to a variety of allergens and pathogens. A “leaky gut” can cause widespread inflammation in the body, including in the skin.

Similarly, inflammation in eczematic skin can spread through the body and affect other organs. Inflammatory molecules and immune cells can circulate through the bloodstream and affect the digestive system, causing inflammation that can affect gut health.

In this way, the signals sent along the gut-skin axis are bidirectional. Changes in one part of the body can affect the other and vice versa.

This means that both gut and skin health are related, and when something goes wrong with one, the other can also experience negative effects.

Food sensitivities and allergies are common in people with eczema. In some cases, these sensitivities may also lead to digestive issues and skin symptoms.

As a result, some people believe that elimination diets that exclude common food allergens can relieve eczema symptoms, both in the skin and in the gut.

However, 2021 research suggests there is not enough evidence that a blanket elimination diet is effective for most people with eczema.

Dietary management of eczema requires medical allergy testing and carefully monitored elimination trials to determine whether there is an effect.

However, even in cases where these kinds of trials occur, most people have relatively small improvements in eczema symptoms. Older research also suggests that elimination diets do not improve gut barrier function.

On top of this, elimination diets can cause nutritional deficiencies. Experts recommend people speak with a healthcare professional before attempting an elimination diet to ensure they remain safe.

Other methods

Some people may suggest probiotics to manage eczema and constipation.

According to the National Eczema Society, probiotics may help prevent eczema in at-risk children, and people with more diverse gut bacteria may be less likely to develop eczema. However, probiotics do not cure eczema.

A 2024 systematic review found that 7 out of 10 peer-reviewed studies reported positive effects of probiotics in treating functional and chronic constipation.

However, review authors highlight that more large-scale studies are necessary to validate this result, especially given the extreme variation in probiotic dosage and strains.

If someone has eczema and constipation, their healthcare team may help them manage their symptoms with lifestyle strategies and medication. A care team may recommend a multidisciplinary approach involving a gastroenterologist and a dermatologist.

A dermatologist can also help adjust medications if necessary, since some eczema medications may cause digestive issues.

Eczema may also link to other digestive issues. For example, a 2021 birth cohort study found that children with eczema were more likely to have a pain-related digestive disorder such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), especially early in life.

People with eczema may not always have gastrointestinal symptoms. However, a 2022 exploratory study suggests that gastrointestinal symptoms in eczema may be due to a different microbiome.

Gastrointestinal symptoms that may occur in people with eczema include:

The 2022 study also found that eczema was more common among people with digestive issues such as IBS and functional dyspepsia.

In addition to eczema, constipation has an association with other allergic conditions. A 2020 population-based cohort study suggests people with constipation were over twice as likely to have allergic rhinitis than those without constipation.

A 2023 cross-sectional study also highlights a significant association between constipation and depression.

A 2022 study supports this. Researchers found a higher likelihood of depression and anxiety among older adults in China with functional constipation.

Some research also suggests a potential link between other skin conditions, such as psoriasis and acne, and constipation.

Below are some common questions about eczema and the gut.

Are eczema and constipation related?

Some research suggests that people with eczema are more likely to have constipation than those without eczema.

Factors such as widespread inflammation may play a role. However, more research is necessary to understand a potential link.

Can eczema cause bowel problems?

People with eczema may be more likely to experience digestive issues, including constipation and bloating. People with certain digestive issues, including IBS, may also have a higher risk of developing eczema.

What is the body lacking in eczema?

Researchers do not yet understand the cause of eczema but believe factors such as genes, environment, and the immune system play a role.

Eczema does not necessarily indicate the body “lacks” something. However, infants with less diverse gut microflora may be more likely to develop eczema.

The health of the skin and the gut are closely related. People with digestive issues, such as constipation, may be more likely to develop skin conditions, such as eczema.

Although sometimes recommended, evidence suggests that strict elimination diets or probiotics do not usually help relieve symptoms of either constipation or eczema.

If someone with eczema is experiencing digestive issues, their dermatologist, with the help of a gastroenterologist, can help provide relief with lifestyle changes and medication.