THURSDAY, April 3, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- The itchy, scaly skin disease psoriasis, long known to negatively affect a patient's overall quality of life, is now being linked with more serious conditions such as cardiovascular disease and cancer, a national task force's report shows.
The study, published online in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, states that people with more severe cases of psoriasis have an increased incidence of psoriatic arthritis, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, depression, obesity and even other immune-related conditions such as Crohn's disease.
As a result, the study authors recommended that psoriasis patients get regular, comprehensive exams from their doctors and work to improve their physical and mental health while avoiding high-risk behaviors, such as smoking, overeating and excessive sun exposure.
Psoriasis has long been associated with increased cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as obesity and smoking, but these were thought to be linked to the psychosocial burden of psoriasis. Two recent studies have changed that thinking because they show an increased risk of heart and circulation issues in psoriasis patients even when controlling for major cardiovascular risk factors.
"Taken together, these studies suggest that psoriasis itself may be a risk factor for developing atherosclerosis and myocardial infarction," study leader and dermatologist Alexa B. Kimball, an associate professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School, said in a prepared statement.
Psoriasis has long been known to cause considerable emotional stress for patients, including an increased incidence of mood disorders. One study estimates that 24 percent of psoriasis patients suffer from depression.
"Depression in patients with psoriasis is a serious concern that should be addressed, as it may significantly impact a patient's overall emotional and physical well-being," Kimball said. "Another concern is that depression may be a contributing factor to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, which as we know is already an increased risk in psoriasis patients."
Several studies have found an increased risk of certain cancers in psoriasis patients, such as lymphoma and a form of skin cancer known as squamous cell carcinoma. Some of these cancers have been associated with specific psoriasis treatments that suppress the immune system.
"Following the recommended routine health screenings for cancers and avoiding high-risk behaviors that increase the risk of developing some cancers, such as smoking, alcohol abuse, and intentional sun exposure, must be a high priority for psoriasis patients who may be at an increased risk for these potentially life-threatening diseases," Kimball said.
Kimball and the task force urged psoriasis patients to work with their dermatologists and physicians to outline an appropriate preventive program based on their individual medical history and known risk factors.
The National Psoriasis Foundation has more about psoriasis.