Background: Surprisingly little is known about how skin scars affect patients' lives, though specialist clinical impressions suggest their impact is related to both their physical and psychosocial effects. Facial scars have been shown to cause high levels of anxiety and self-consciousness, but further work has been neglected. We aimed to explore the influence of skin scars on patients' quality of life (QoL) and identify potential implications for clinical practice. Methods: We adopted a needs-based approach to QoL and conducted semi-structured interviews with scar patients at a specialist clinic. Transcribed data underwent interpretative phenomenological analysis to identify common themes in individuals' personal experiences. Results: Thirty-four scar patients (24 women; aged 14-70 years, mean = 35.7 years, SD = 17.9 years) with a wide range of scar type, severity and onset were recruited. Five hundred and seventy-three statements were identified from interview transcripts relating to need impairment by skin scars. These were subsequently classified into 44 themes covering five main areas: physical comfort and functioning; acceptability to self and others; social functioning; confidence in the nature and management of the condition; emotional well-being. The majority of respondents were unhappy with their scar's appearance due to their perceived stigma and psychological associations, and thus adopted different coping behaviours to hide or compensate for them. Often this made them unsociable and interfered with their communication skills, personal relationships, work life and leisure activities. Concerns about the diagnosis and persistent nature of scars were common, whilst unempathic management by general physicians and frustrations of current treatment compounded distress. Conclusions: There are five main areas of impact on the needs of scar patients that should be addressed in their management, which are greater and more complex than previously considered. Support services should be made available, along with clinician and public education to improve management and help reduce patient distress. A need for a carefully designed measure of scar-related QoL is also indicated, for use in clinical settings and trials. © 2008 British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons.
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