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Posted: April 08, 2008

Psoriasis Patients Said to Risk Heart Disease, Cancer, Depression

While psoriasis patients have long known the itchy, crusty skin disease to hamper their quality of life, a new report says the condition also can lead to depression and even cancer and heart disease.

More than 125 million people worldwide, including up to 7.5 million Americans, suffer from the debilitating condition, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation. There currently is no cure.

In plaque psoriasis, the most common type, patches of skin called "lesions" become inflamed and covered by silvery white scale. Psoriasis can be limited to a few lesions or can involve moderate to large areas of skin. The severity of psoriasis can vary from person to person; however, for most people, psoriasis tends to be mild.

In a new national study, led by Harvard University, researchers found that people with more severe cases of psoriasis have an increased incidence of psoriatic arthritis, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, depression, obesity and Crohn's disease.

These latest findings, published online in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, support and expand previous reports that psoriasis causes psychological stress that increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, including two more recent studies that found patients in danger of increased heart and circulation issues, even when the overall cardiovascular risk was addressed.

As a result, the study authors urged psoriasis suffers to get regular, comprehensive medical exams and protect themselves by avoiding high-risk behaviors, including smoking, overeating and excessive sun exposure.

"Taken together, these studies suggest that psoriasis itself may be a risk factor for developing atherosclerosis and myocardial infarction," said Harvard dermatologist Dr. Alexa B. Kimball, the study’s lead author.

Kimball pointed out that psoriasis patients often suffer from mood disorders and noted one study that estimated 24% of all 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 in a prepared statement. "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."

Among the cancers most commonly associated with psoriasis, Kimball said, are lymphoma and a form of skin cancer known as squamous cell carcinoma. Ironically, some of these cancers have been linked to specific psoriasis treatments that suppress the immune system, she added.

"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.

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