WebMD Medical News
Laura J. Martin, MD
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
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
Patients with mild psoriasis were at increased risk of stroke and
"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.
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
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
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.
The list of medical conditions associated with psoriasis doesn't end there,
Among others, he tells WebMD, are obesity, Crohn's disease, diabetes,
depression, sexual dysfunction, arthritis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary
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,"
The important thing is that people with psoriasis undergo a thorough health
evaluation, he says.
SOURCES:68th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology, Miami Beach,
Fla. March 5-9, 2010.American College of Cardiology's 59th Annual Scientific Session, Atlanta,
March 14-16, 2010.Ole Ahlehoff, MD, research fellow, department of cardiology, Copenhagen
University Hospital, Denmark.Carol Bau, MD, Health Economics and Outcomes Research, Abbott Laboratories,
Abbott Park, Ill.Alan Menter, MD, chair, psoriasis research unit, Baylor Research Institute,
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