Reviewed by Varnada Karriem-Norwood on December 13, 2011
National Psoriasis Foundation. Robert Swerlick, MD, Chairman, Department of Dermatology, Emory University School of Medicine. Lawrence Sperling, MD, Director, Center for Heart Disease Prevention, Emory University School of Medicine.
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Joel Thomas: I have an echocardiogram done every year just to make sure…and catch it—nip it in the bud before it happens.
Narrator: What, you may wonder, does a heart-monitoring test have to do with psoriasis? …As it turns out, the skin disorder can increase the risk for certain life-threatening conditions, like heart attacks and stroke.
Robert Swerlick, MD: I think the recent studies sort of highlight the fact that psoriasis is not just a skin disease—that it has a number of other implications…
Lawrence Sperling, MD: …most importantly heart disease or blood vessel disease. So if you are a patient with psoriasis, you should be aware—especially if you have other heart risk-factors—that this magnifies or multiplies your risk of having a heart attack or a stroke, or even disease of your peripheral circulation.
Narrator: Some heart risk factors can be managed, like obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure as well as habits like smoking. Smoking has been strongly associated with promoting the onset of psoriasis.
Lawrence Sperling, MD: …Some of the risk-factors for heart disease cross-pollinate with risk-factors for psoriasis and so therefore this association…
Narrator: Recent studies show the risk for heart disease goes up even when you exclude other health hazards common to people with psoriasis… but this emerging research is still only a piece of a larger, incomplete puzzle:
Robert Swerlick, MD: The million dollar question is: well if you treat the psoriasis do you lower the risk…and no one knows the answer to that question, but it's the obvious question to address.
Narrator: Medical researchers are also pondering the connection between psoriasis and other diseases like cancer—some statistics show higher rates for skin, lymphoma and prostate cancers… Psoriasis patients are also more apt to have other inflammatory diseases such as Crohn's or psoriatic arthritis… it's no wonder that depression is also a major concern.
Lawrence Sperling, MD: …If we look at psoriasis, it is an inflammatory disease of the skin, but people that have severe psoriasis; it's an inflammatory disease of the body.
Narrator: Joel discovered his condition went deeper than skin after he developed psoriatic arthritis…
Joel Thomas: …especially when it kicked into my knees…I mean I either couldn't play or if I went out and played, I would be hurting the next day or two…and putting ice bags on my knees and everything else…
Narrator: The good news is that psoriasis patients are often successful at managing their symptoms. Joel's been able to keep both his skin plaque and his arthritis in check with his current treatment…and that helps him maintain a healthier lifestyle—a strategy doctors encourage:
Robert Swerlick, MD: We like to look for low hanging fruit—simple things, or relatively simple things to go after first… So it's easy to recommend that people do interventions that we know will benefit them in the long run. …So patients who have problems with their weight to encourage them to lose weight—we know they're going to have an impact on management of other diseases, including diabetes and it's highly likely that it will benefit their psoriasis.
Narrator: For WebMD, I'm Damon Meharg.