Psoriasis and Associated Health Risks

Patient Expert

If your dermatologist is asking more questions about your overall health, and not just about your skin, consider yourself fortunate to have an especially informed doctor. I'm thankful to have found my dermatologist, who understands that psoriasis often is linked with other health risks.

Thanks in part to study findings published within the past few years, my dermatologist believes he and his colleagues are more aware than ever about the possibility that their patients with psoriasis could very well experience serious medical conditions, including cardiovascular disease and cancer. As a result, they're taking the time to ask patients questions about how well they take care of themselves, as well as letting them know of the possible risks so that they may talk with their general practitioner or other specialist for further assistance if necessary.

According to study findings published in 2008 in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (JAAD), people with more severe cases of psoriasis appear to 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.

You may hear the word "co-morbidity" when talking with your physician about other health risks associated with your psoriasis. Co-morbidities are defined in the medical community as two or more coexisting medical conditions or disease processes that are additional to an initial diagnosis. In medicine, co-morbidity describes the effect of all other diseases an individual patient might have other than the primary disease of interest. There is currently no accepted way to quantify such co-morbidity.

Many dermatologists long have been aware that psoriasis patients sometimes also struggle with other health problems such as obesity, depression and high cholesterol. These recent findings on co-morbidities only ramps up the need for psoriasis patients to feel they can talk openly and honestly with their dermatologist to ensure optimal treatment for their disease.

My dermatologist makes a point of asking patients when they last had a physical examination. He also believes it's important to consider family health history and how that may play a role in possible health risks. Experts I've spoken with over the years about this topic also recommend the following, even if your psoriasis is mild:

Keep things in perspective. While there are elevated risks associated with psoriasis, experts say they're not whopping elevated risks. Keeping it in context is important.

Stay on top of your health. At a minimum, follow the nationally recognized recommendations appropriate for your age and gender. These include getting regular, comprehensive exams from your doctors and working to make lifestyle changes such as losing weight, exercising more, quitting smoking, reducing high blood pressure, controlling cholesterol, maintaining emotional health and managing diabetes as needed. It's also wise to following the American Heart Association's established recommendations for cardiovascular risk factor screening, which includes an evaluation of your blood pressure, body mass index, waist circumference, pulse, fasting serum lipoprotein (or total and HDL cholesterol) and fasting blood glucose.

Keep talking with your doctor. Inform your dermatologist of any changes in your health, including aches and pains that may indicate psoriatic arthritis or other health problems.