A new study finds that the dry, itchy, scaly skin disease psoriasis could be a warning sign of heart disease. It shows that people suffering it are at higher risk for heart attacks.
Researchers report in the Journal of the American Medical Association that having psoriasis elevates the chance of a heart attack.
"Psoriasis itself could lead someone to have a heart attack, particularly if someone has severe disease," said Joel Gelfand, the University of Pennsylvania dermatologist who led the study.
"The risk of having a heart attack related to psoriasis is very similar to the risk of having a heart attack related to diabetes," he said.
Gelfand's team studied the health records of nearly 700,000 British adults from age 20 to 90. They found the highest heart attack risk among psoriasis sufferers was in younger adults and people with severe cases. For example, a 30-year-old with a a mild condition had about a 30 percent higher risk for a heart attack than a patient without psoriasis - almost the same as a 60-year-old with a severe case.
Gelfand says the connection is the immune system. Psoriasis, which affects about three percent of the adult population, is believed to be an immune system disorder.
It can be triggered by emotional stress, skin damage such as sunburn, excessive alcohol intake, and some medications. The immune system is activated in such cases, sometimes over-reacting and flooding the skin with chemicals that can cause dry, flaky, red patches.
Gelfand says the chemical markers of inflammation in psoriasis are the same ones linked to narrowing of the arteries and heart attack.
"So this is a new concept - that having immune diseases could lead to coronary artery disease and ultimately heart attacks," explained Gelfand. "Other immune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis have already been shown to be risk factors for having a heart attack, and this extends those findings as another example of a chronic immune disease leading to a higher risk of having a heart attack."
Gelfand advises psoriasis patients to control the other factors associated with heart disease - such as overweight, high blood pressure, diabetes, and smoking.