March 15, 2010 -- Psoriasis is more than skin deep. The 7.5 million Americans who suffer from the thick, red, scaly, itchy plaques of psoriasis are at increased risk of a number of other serious medical conditions.
One new study, presented this week at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology in Atlanta, suggests people with psoriasis are more likely to have heart attacks and strokes than people who don't have the skin disorder.
Researchers from Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark tracked rates of psoriasis, heart disease, stroke, and death in the entire adolescent and adult population of Denmark between 1997 and 2006.
They found that people with severe psoriasis were 54% more likely to suffer a stroke, 21% more likely to have a heart attack, and 53% more likely to die over a 10-year period than people without the skin disorder. They were also more likely to need a procedure such as angioplasty to open up clogged heart arteries.
Patients with mild psoriasis were at increased risk of stroke and artery-opening procedures.
"People with severe disease at a younger age were at highest risk for cardiovascular problems," says study researcher Ole Ahlehoff, MD.
The analysis took into account other risk factors for heart disease, including age, sex, medication, and other health conditions.
"People with psoriasis should not only seek care for the symptoms of that disorder, but should also be screened for heart disease risk factors and make lifestyle changes to minimize their risk of future cardiovascular problems, such as maintaining a healthy weight," Ahlehoff tells WebMD.
Psoriasis and Cancer
Another study, presented last week at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology in Miami Beach, Fla., shows psoriasis is associated with an increased risk of cancer, including skin cancer, prostate cancer, and lymphoma.
Researchers from Health Economics and Outcomes Research at Abbott Laboratories combed through their insurance claims database that has information on about 93 million Americans. They identified 37,159 people with psoriasis and compared their rates of cancer to 111,473 people without the condition; their ages were similar. People with psoriasis were more likely to have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart disease and to be obese.
Over an average period of about two-and-one-half years, 34.8% of people with psoriasis were diagnosed with cancer. In contrast, only 23.2% of those without the skin condition developed cancer. That translated to a 56% higher risk of cancer for people with psoriasis, the researchers report.
As for types of cancer, people with psoriasis had a 75% higher risk for skin cancer, 87% higher risk for lymphoma, and 22% higher risk for prostate cancer, the study showed.
Some of the treatments used for psoriasis may have increased their risk of skin cancer, says Alan Menter, MD, chair of the psoriasis research unit at Baylor Research Institute in Dallas. But the link to the other cancers can't be explained by therapy, he says.
Psoriasis Linked to Obesity, Depression
The list of medical conditions associated with psoriasis doesn't end there, Menter says.
In addition, studies have shown that people with psoriasis tend to drink and smoke a lot, Menter says. Detrimental behaviors can aggravate some conditions associated with psoriasis, such as heart disease and COPD, he says.
According to Ahlehoff, the underlying inflammation that drives the development of psoriasis appears to predispose people to cardiovascular disease, which also is thought to be fueled by inflammation.
But in the case of the other medical conditions, "we are unsure whether psoriasis causes other diseases or that these other diseases cause psoriasis," Menter says.
The important thing is that people with psoriasis undergo a thorough health evaluation, he says.