What Psoriasis Does to Your Heart
Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease. People with psoriasis develop patches on their skin that can be scaly, red, very itchy and painful. But while psoriasis is a skin disease, it can also affect other parts of your body—including your heart.
How can psoriasis affect the heart?
Since psoriasis is an inflammatory disease, over time the inflammation inside your body can cause damage to your blood vessels and your organs, like your heart. As the damage progresses, your risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke increases. Statistics show that people with psoriasis have three times the risk of having a heart attack than people who don’t have psoriasis, and the more severe the psoriasis, the higher the risk.
- Type 2 diabetes
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Metabolic syndrome
What causes the complications to the heart?
Long-term inflammation in your arteries leads to damage in the arterial walls. This can lead to atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. When there is damage along your arterial wall, substances in your blood, such as low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL), can hook on to the wall and become stuck, narrowing the blood vessel. As it becomes harder for your blood to flow past the obstruction, your heart has to work harder, leading to heart disease. Fatty deposits stuck to the wall could also break off and travel through your blood stream to your heart or brain, causing a heart attack or stroke. Additionally, chronic smoldering inflammation anywhere in the body leads to elevated levels of chemical mediators that are directly related to atherosclerotic heart disease.
Researchers have also found other problems that are unique to people with psoriasis and may increase their heart disease risk:
- People with psoriasis have thicker, denser LDL that can clog up more easily
- They don’t have as much “good” cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which works against LDL
- They may take medications, such as acitretin (Soriatane), that can increase LDL and decrease HDL
Combined with the higher risk people with psoriasis have for obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension or metabolic syndrome, all patients with psoriasis need to take steps to prevent heart complications.
How can heart problems caused by psoriasis be prevented?
You can help reduce your risk of heart disease, a heart attack, or stroke caused by psoriasis by managing your illness as well as possible, and by living a healthy lifestyle. Along with your doctor’s advice, here are some ways you can help yourself:
- Follow your psoriasis treatment plan: Take your medications as prescribed by your doctor to treat your psoriasis. If you have any concerns about the drugs, speak with your doctor or pharmacist. Don’t stop treatment without discussing it first with your doctor.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet: Eating a heart-healthy diet not only helps reduce your risk of developing heart disease, it also helps reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, and other illnesses that can be related to lifestyle. If your doctor has advised you to lose weight and you don’t know where to start, ask to meet with a dietitian, who will be able to help you develop new eating patterns.
- Exercise: Speak with your doctor about starting an exercise plan if you don’t exercise already. For some people, regular exercise is a daily walk; for others, it’s participating in team sports. Find an activity that will keep you active and that you’ enjoy, so you’ll stick to it.
- Reduce your stress levels: This may be easier said than done, but stress can increase the risk of heart disease, so reducing stress is important. Being physically active can be one type of stress reliever, as can participating in activities such as yoga, meditation and mindfulness. Therapy with a counselor may help you learn how to manage stress.
- Quit smoking: If you smoke and find it hard to quit, speak to your doctor about options that may help you.
- Undergo regular heart disease screening: Talk to your doctor about how often you should be screened for heart disease and what tests you should have.
If you experience any signs or symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, call 9-1-1 immediately for emergency help.
Living with a chronic disease such as psoriasis has its challenges, but by being proactive and and taking care of yourself, you can reduce your risks for heart disease and other illnesses.