(LifeWire) - Medical researchers have suspected for some time that there's a relationship between psoriasis -- a skin disorder characterized by itchy, reddened, rash-like patches, or lesions -- and cardiovascular diseases, involving the heart and circulatory system.
What could possibly connect the two? Pinning down the specifics has proven difficult, but the leading theory centers on the role of inflammation.
Inflammation is a response by the immune system after injury or infection. When you get a minor injury -- an abrasion or cut -- the area around it generally reddens, swells slightly and feels warm. In other words, it becomes inflamed.
While inflammation is part of the body's normal healing process, it isn't always helpful. In cardiovascular disease, it can make the cholesterol-rich plaques of atherosclerosis less stable and more likely to rupture, potentially triggering a heart attack or stroke.Psoriasis is widely seen as a dysfunction of the immune system, with too many skin cells being pushed to the surface too quickly. Both psoriasis and cardiovascular disease are associated with higher than usual levels of inflammation, leading experts to suspect that it may represent the bridge that links them.
It's only recently that researchers have begun to find out important risks faced by people who have psoriasis. Chief among these is the risk for cardiovascular disease, and in particular, heart attack. An important 2006 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that psoriasis is in fact a risk factor for heart attack.
In that study, University of Pennsylvania researchers examined data on more than 130,000 individuals with psoriasis, and an even larger control population of persons ranging in age from 20 to 90 years old. The authors concluded that heart attack risk was "greatest in young patients with severe psoriasis."
They found that people in their 30s who had severe psoriasis were about three times more likely to have a heart attack than young people without psoriasis. The authors also noted that people with psoriasis were at greater risk for other chronic health problems, including smoking and obesity.
Although we know a great deal about heart disease, psoriasis still isn't well understood. One thing is clear, according to researchers who've studied both: People with severe psoriasis should work closely with their doctors to monitor their cardiovascular health and take preventive measures.
For better heart health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends:
- Don't smoke.
- Pay attention to your cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
- If you have diabetes, control your blood sugar levels.
- Use alcohol in moderation.
- Get regular exercise.
- Eat healthy food.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
"About Psoriasis: Overview." Psoriasis.org. 2008. National Psoriasis Foundation. 4 June 2008. < http://www.psoriasis.org/about/>
Gelfand, Joel M., David J. Margolis, Andrea L. Neimann, Daniel B. Shin, Andrea B. Troxel, Xingmei Wang. "Risk of Myocardial Infarction in Patients With Psoriasis." JAMA 296:14(2006): 1735-1741.
"Heart Disease and Prevention: What You Can Do." CDC.gov. 15 Nov. 2007. Centers for Disease Control. 4 June 2008. <http://www.cdc.gov/HeartDisease/prevention.htm>
"Psoriasis" Medline Plus. 2 June 2008. U.S. National Institutes of Health. 4 June. 2008. <www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/psoriasis.html>