Health & Fitness

Psoriasis, often misdiagnosed, may lead to heart disease and other serious ailments

A patient with psoriasis is treated with ultraviolet light at the health resort Bad Salzuflen in Germany. Treatment with ultraviolet light can ease the symptoms of psoriasis.
A patient with psoriasis is treated with ultraviolet light at the health resort Bad Salzuflen in Germany. Treatment with ultraviolet light can ease the symptoms of psoriasis. AP file, 2005

Although psoriasis affects the skin and the nails, it is actually an immune-mediated condition rather than a skin condition.

For many people, this can lead to a misdiagnosis or undertreatment of psoriasis, which can lead to serious health complications including an increased risk for heart disease. Fortunately, there are many new medications that can help treat skin symptoms and related medical conditions to help those with psoriasis.

Here’s what the latest research shows about the link between psoriasis and your cardiovascular health.

What Is Psoriasis?

Psoriasis is an inflammatory skin condition caused by the immune system. It is not contagious. The symptoms seen on the skin include dry, red, flaky patches on the arms, legs, elbows, knees and scalp. These occur because your immune system mistakenly triggers your skin to produce new skin cells too quickly. This results in a buildup of cells on the surface of your skin, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation.

The skin rash is not the only symptom of psoriasis. It can also cause joint stiffness, inflamed tendons, and an increased risk of health complications such as heart disease, psoriatic arthritis and metabolic syndrome, a cardiovascular condition.

More Than Skin Deep

Because psoriasis can affect your entire body and not just your skin, ongoing research shows that physicians need to take a more comprehensive approach to treatment. One important study, for example, found that those with severe psoriasis are at a high risk for developing aortic inflammation, which can lead to atherosclerosis, or the hardening and narrowing of artery walls (Dermatology Times).

Similarly, psoriasis can also cause psoriatic arthritis (PSA) due to joint inflammation, as well as depression, a lowered quality of life, and even a shorter life expectancy if not treated properly.

Many people and even some doctors, however, still view psoriasis as a cosmetic concern due to its prevalent effects to the skin, and therefore only seek treatment for these superficial symptoms and not the possible underlying health risks. That is a mistake. Psoriasis should be treated as a medical condition.

Dr. Leslie Baumann is a board-certified dermatologist, New York Times best-selling author and CEO of Baumann Cosmetic & Research Institute in Miami.

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