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Psoriasis, Heart Disease, and Diabetes: What's the Link?

Metabolic Syndrome, a Risk Factor for Heart Disease and Diabetes, More Likely in People With Psoriasis
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Dec. 20, 2010 --  Having psoriasis appears to double the risk that a person will also have a dangerous clustering of risk factors for heart disease and diabetes known as metabolic syndrome, a new study shows.

Previous research has found patients with psoriasis to be at higher risk for getting diabetes and high blood pressure, but the new study, which is in the Archives of Dermatology, is one of the first to document the broader complement of cardiovascular risks associated with the disease.

Psoriasis Is an All-Over Problem

“It is more than skin deep,” says Abrar Qureshi, MD, MPH, co-author of the paper and vice chairman of the department of dermatology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “We like to tell patients that psoriasis is a systemic disease. The risk for metabolic syndrome is high.”

Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease in which the body overproduces skin cells, causing a thick, scaly, red rash to appear on the palms, soles of the feet, elbows, scalp, or lower back. It is thought to be one manifestation of chronic, body-wide inflammation.

Metabolic syndrome is defined as having at least three of the following risk factors for heart disease and diabetes: high blood pressure, too much belly fat, high fasting blood sugar, low levels of HDL “good” cholesterol, and high levels of bad blood fats called triglycerides. Studies have shown that having metabolic syndrome dramatically increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes, peripheral vascular disease, and type 2 diabetes.

Researchers say it’s difficult to know which of the two might be driving the other.

“There’s evidence on both sides of the fence,” says lead study author Thorvardur Jon Löve, MD, of Landspitali University Hospital in Reykjavik, Iceland. "There’s evidence that obesity drives the development of psoriasis. There’s also evidence that inflammation drives some components of insulin resistance. It’s a real chicken and egg problem at this point."

Metabolic Syndrome and Psoriasis

The new study used blood test results from nearly 2,500 people who participated in the government-sponsored National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2003 and 2006. None had previously been diagnosed with diabetes.

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