Psoriasis, Obesity, and Heart Disease

Plaque psoriasis
Plaque psoriasis | Source

What Is Psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory disease of the skin. In this disorder, the immune system mistakenly speeds up the life cycle of skin cells. This causes dead cells to collect on the surface of the skin. The immune system also triggers inflammation, which makes the skin turn red.

There are five types of psoriasis. The most common - which is present in approximately eighty percent of cases - is plaque psoriasis. In this form, thick, scaly patches develop on the skin. The scales are dead skin cells and are white or silver in color. They lie on top of red areas of skin that are inflamed and often itchy.

Psoriasis is known to be linked to both obesity and heart disease. Many scientific investigations have supported the following ideas.

  • If a person is obese, the likelihood of their having psoriasis is increased.
  • If a person has psoriasis, the likelihood of their having heart disease is increased, whether or not they are obese.
  • Obesity increases the chance of heart disease.
  • Inflammation is involved in psoriasis, obesity and heart disease.

Determining the actual relationship between psoriasis and other health problems is a complex task. It's sometimes hard to distingush between cause and effect. Nevertheless, the evidence indicates that psoriasis is connected to obesity and cardiovascular disease in some way.

Obese people are more likely to have psoriasis. Does this mean that obesity can cause psoriasis, or is obesity a possible consequence of psoriasis? In addition, psoriasis is associated with an increased risk of heart disease. Does psoriasis cause heart disease, or are the psoriasis and heart disease both the result of another problem in the body? Researchers want to solve these puzzles.

Experiencing the Disease

What Happens in Psoriasis?

Skin cells are produced in the deep layer of our skin. They slowly migrate upwards, maturing as they travel and dying when they reach the surface of the skin. The migration normally takes about a month. The dead cells are eventually shed from the surface of the body.

In somebody with psoriasis, new skin cells are made too rapidly and they migrate too quickly. The cells reach the surface of the skin in as little as a few days. The dead cells pile up, producing scaly areas. This process is accompanied by inflammation, a process in which surface blood vessels expand and cause redness. The inflammation stimulates nerves and causes itching or pain.

A Model Shows Her Skin Condition While Wearing a Swimsuit

In an autoimmune disease, a person's immune system attacks his or her own cells. Psoriasis is sometimes classified as an autoimmune disease, since cells in the immune system called T cells alter the action of skin cells.

Cause of the Disease

Researchers know that the immune system is behaving abnormally in someone suffering from psoriasis. Our immune system's usual job is to attack and destroy dangerous bacteria or viruses inside the body. A type of white blood cell called a T cell is activated by the presence of the invaders and causes a chain of events that destroy them. In someone with psoriasis, for some reason activated T cells are present in the skin. They stimulate the rapid production and maturation of skin cells as well as the release of inflammatory chemicals. The chemicals cause inflammation in the skin and sometimes in the joints as well.

The symptoms of psoriasis may be worse at some times and much better at others, but the problem is generally lifelong and recurring. Triggers that may cause a flare-up or make psoriasis worse include stress, some infections, cold and dry weather, certain medications, injury to the skin, smoking and excessive alcohol intake.

Psoriasis has a genetic component and is sometimes inherited. Researchers say that a trigger is needed to stimulate the first appearance of psoriasis in a person without the disorder, even in genetically susceptible people. Some of the factors that cause psoriasis to recur - such as certain infections and medications - may also act as the initial trigger.

Guttate psoriasis
Guttate psoriasis | Source

Types of Psoriasis

There are five types of psoriasis.

  • Plaque: the most common type of psoriasis. White, scaly patches and red, inflamed areas appear on the skin. The patches of abnormal tissue are known as lesions. They may appear anywhere on the body but are most common on the elbows, knees, legs, the lower back and the scalp. The fingernails may also change their appearance and become thickened, ridged or pitted.
  • Guttate: small red spots appear on the skin
  • Pustular: the skin develops white blisters surrounded by red skin
  • Erythrodermic: very large and very red areas appear on the skin. Most of the body has a fiery appearance. The skin scales are thin, unlike the thick scales in plaque psoriasis. The skin may be painful as well as extremely itchy.
  • Inverse: red skin appears in the folds and hidden areas of the body, such as under the arms, in the groin and under skin folds of overweight people.

Psoriasis is not an infection and isn't contagious. We can't "catch" psoriasis by touching someone's lesions or rash. About two percent of people around the world suffer from the disorder. Ten to thirty percent of people with psoriasis also develop a type of arthritis known as psoriatic arthritis.

Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis

Psoriasis and Obesity

Scientists at the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Department of Research and Evaluation studied the health records of 710,949 children. The researchers found that:

  • Obese children were almost forty times more likely to have psoriasis than children of normal weight
  • Very obese children were almost eighty times more likely to have psoriasis than children of normal weight
  • In children with psoriasis, severe or widespread psoriasis was four times more likely to be present in obese children than in children of normal weight

Chemicals that are associated with chronic inflammation have been found in the bloodstream of obese people. It's been proposed that these chemicals can either cause psoriasis or make it worse. It's known that weight loss can improve psoriasis.

On the other hand, some scientists think that obesity is a consequence of psoriasis instead of a cause. Depression and embarrassment leading to a decreased desire to exercise and poor food choices could all result in weight gain in people with psoriasis, especially when the psoriasis is severe. In addition, some researchers have suggested that psoriasis may cause metabolic dysfunction that leads to weight gain. Psoriasis is associated with an increased incidence of type 2 diabetes, even in patients of normal weight.

Psoriasis on the back
Psoriasis on the back | Source

Cardiovascular Problems That May Be Linked to the Disease

Coronary heart disease, or CHD, is a condition in which the arteries that supply oxygen and nutrients to the heart muscle are narrowed due to the buildup of a hard, fatty material in the arteries. This material is called plaque and is made of fat, cholesterol, calcium and other substances. Narrowing or hardening of the arteries is known as atherosclerosis.

Cerebrovascular disease is a problem that develops due to changes in the blood vessels in the brain. One type of cerebrovascular disease is a stroke, which involves an interruption in the blood flow to the brain.

Peripheral artery disease is a condition in which the arteries in the arms or legs are narrowed and blood flow is reduced.

Anyone who suspects that they have psoriasis or who has an unexplained skin problem should visit a doctor for a diagnosis. The doctor should also be consulted about treatments for the problem.

Treating Psoriasis

Psoriasis, Heart Disease and Cardiovascular Problems

Many studies have suggested that there is a link between psoriasis and heart disease, a heart attack or a stroke. It's thought that in these cases not only the skin is inflamed but also structures inside the body, such as the heart and the arteries. Part of the increased risk may be due to the fact that some people with psoriasis are obese, but scientists say that even in lean people psoriasis is linked to an increased chance of cardiovascular problems. Here are some results of research studies.

  • Scientists in Denmark found that people under fifty with psoriasis had a greatly increased risk of stroke and irregular heart rhythms, especially if they had severe psoriasis. The increased risk was much less in people over fifty.
  • Researchers at the University of Miami in Florida found that psoriasis patients who swallowed certain anti-inflammatory medications to help their disorder were less likely to have a heart attack than people who only placed an ointment on their skin. This is further evidence suggesting that in at least some people with psoriasis the inflammation is not limited to their skin. The most effective medications were the ones known as Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF) inhibitors, but other medications helped as well.
  • Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania surveyed a large number of people and concluded that a sixty year old person with severe psoriasis has a thirty six percent higher chance of having a heart attack than a person of the same age without psoriasis.
  • In 2009, other researchers concluded from their survey that people with psoriasis were almost twice as likely to suffer from coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease or peripheral artery disease as people without psoriasis.

More About Treatments

A Psoriasis Poll

Do you have psoriasis?

  • I have plaque psoriasis.
  • I have guttate psoriasis.
  • I have pustular psoriasis.
  • I have erythrodermic psoriasis.
  • I have inverse psoriasis.
  • I have more than one form of psoriasis.
  • No, I don't have psoriasis.
See results without voting

It's important for psoriasis patients to maintain a healthy weight. Whatever the true relationship between obesity and psoriasis, obesity may make psoriasis worse. Obesity also increases the risk of other serious health problems, including heart attacks and type 2 diabetes.

Preventing Possible Complications of the Disease

Someone with psoriasis should discuss treatment options with their doctor in detail. The doctor and patient need to decide whether an ointment (a "topical medication" that is applied to the skin), light treatment (phototherapy) or a medicine that is swallowed or injected (a "systemic medication" that travels through the body) is the best idea for the patient's situation and medical background. The advantages and disadvantages of each form of treatment need to be carefully considered. Sometimes a combination of treatments works best.

People with psoriasis need to persevere while trying different treatments. There isn't a cure for psoriasis, but there are many good treatment options that can be very helpful in clearing lesions. A treatment that works in one person may not work in another person, however. Someone may be lucky and find an effective treatment for their case of psoriasis very quickly, but the search may also take some time. If you have psoriasis and know that certain triggers stimulate a flare-up, it's important to investigate ways to avoid these triggers in addition to using medications that your doctor recommends.

References and Further Information

© 2012 Linda Crampton

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Comments 20 comments

Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 4 years ago from USA

This is very informative - I did not know that there was a link between psoriasis, and the obesity and heart disease. The body is very complex indeed.

AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks for the visit and the comment, Millionaire Tips. Yes, the body is certainly very complex! I think that it's amazing that we've discovered as much as we have about how it operates. I hope the pace of discovery increases, though. The sooner we understand conditions like psoriasis, the sooner we will be able to create more effective treatments, or even prevent the disorder completely.

mvillecat profile image

mvillecat 4 years ago from Milledgeville, Georgia

This makes so much sense and the reason is that inflammation causes so many terrible reactions in our body. I suffer from stress hives, which when under a lot of stress, inflammation in my body goes up and causes hives to pop out. I have suffered from it for a couple of years now due the extreme stress and inflammation in my body. I am also overweight and have polycystic ovarian syndrome which also causes inflammation. I tweeted and voted up. Great job.

AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the comment, the vote and the tweet, mvillecat. I appreciate them all! I'm sorry about your health problems. The latest research does suggest that chronic inflammation plays a role in many disorders. In fact, it's surprising how many diseases seem to involve inflammation!

Mama Kim 8 profile image

Mama Kim 8 4 years ago

Another fabulous health hub Alicia! Well written, very interesting and informative! Keep up the amazing work! Voted a bunch

AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you, Sasha! I appreciate your comment and the votes very much!!

drbj profile image

drbj 4 years ago from south Florida

You have produced an encyclopedia of information about psoriasis, Alicia - a messy-looking and fairly common ailment. Thanks for all this comprehensive information.

AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you, drbj. Psoriasis is a very unpleasant condition, but researchers are continuing to discover new treatments which may be very helpful to people who suffer from the disorder.

Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

Very interesting and useful ;thanks for sharing.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks for the comment, Eddy. I appreciate your visit.

Thundermama profile image

Thundermama 4 years ago from Canada

Well done! This is really important information to get out there. My husband suffers from psoriasis and I had no ideas about these links. he has recent lost a significant amount of weight and his psoriasis has gotten much better. Now I know why.

AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Thundermama. Thanks for the comment. I've heard of several people with psoriasis who lost a lot of weight and found that their condition improved dramatically. There definitely seems to be a link between weight and psoriasis!

kashmir56 profile image

kashmir56 4 years ago from Massachusetts

Hi my friend great hub and very informative, all this information is so helpful to those who suffer with this. Well done !

Vote up and more !!!

AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Tom. Thank you for the visit. As always, I appreciate your comment, and your votes too!

teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

I feel so sorry for the people who have this disease. Great article and I learned much about the different types and the treatment for it.

AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, teaches. Yes, psoriasis can be very unpleasant and can interfere with a person's life. Hopefully researchers will discover more about the cause of the disease very soon. Thanks for the comment.

chrissieklinger profile image

chrissieklinger 4 years ago from Pennsylvania

WOW, those pictures really help you realize how serious this can be. I feel fortunate to have healthy skin. Children that suffer from psoriasis are really limited in what they can do, thankfully more and more treatments are being discovered.

AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Chrissie. Yes, psoriasis can range from mild to severe. It must be very difficult for many children with psoriasis. It is good that treatments are improving, though. Thanks for the visit.

unknown spy profile image

unknown spy 4 years ago from Neverland - where children never grow up.

oh my God. this is scary.. :( you have written a great article here Alicia about this disease and the consequences that followed. better to be aware.

AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you, unknown spy. Some cases of psoriasis do look very dramatic, and it's sometimes hard for a person to deal with it. It's great that people such as the model in the second video are publicizing the condition.

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    Linda Crampton (AliciaC)1,242 Followers
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    Linda Crampton is a teacher with an honours degree in biology. She enjoys writing about human biology and the science of health and disease.

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