The National Psoriasis Foundation sponsors Psoriasis Awareness Month each year in August. This skin disorder affects 125 million people worldwide and inflicts both physical and emotional pain on its sufferers.
Psoriasis not only affects the skin, but it also affects the overall health of its sufferers. Approximately 10–30% of psoriasis sufferers will experience psoriatic arthritis. Individuals with psoriasis are also at risk of becoming obese and developing cardiovascular diseases.
Psoriasis is a serious condition that can affect anyone. There is currently no cure for psoriasis. The National Psoriasis Foundation and federal government are currently
promoting and funding research to find a cure.
What is Psoriasis?
Psoriasis is a relatively common skin disease characterized by well-defined areas of itching and red or pink plaques covered in white scale (flaking skin). The spectrum of disease severity is quite broad. In mild cases, the affected areas may be only the elbows, knees, or scalp, and topical steroid cream (or nonsteroid alternatives) often adequately treat the disease. Severe cases of psoriasis can be quite extensive, however, affecting nearly all of the skin and significantly impacting quality of life. In severe cases, treatment of psoriasis often requires oral or injectable immunosuppressant medications.
A well-known association between psoriasis and arthritis has long been
recognized (1). Termed psoriatic arthritis, this condition can be incredibly debilitating. Those who suffer from psoriatic joint disease deserve aggressive therapy to preserve joint function, as the disease can progress if untreated.
Psoriasis and Systemic Diseases
Now, new studies of patients suffering with psoriasis have identified associations with several other systemic diseases, including obesity (2). It is unclear whether weight gain is related to the propensity to develop psoriasis or whether it results from decreased physical activity related to mood changes, as there also tends to be a higher incidence of depression among psoriasis patients.
A recent study compared over 3,000 patients with psoriasis to 2,500 patients without psoriasis (3). This study found that patients with psoriasis also had higher rates of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease. Specifically, the study found development of atherosclerosis (deposition of cholesterol plaques in the arteries of the heart, brain, and extremities) is increased in patients suffering from psoriasis. Most recently, a new report suggests an association between psoriasis and osteoporosis, or thinning of the bones (4).
Such recent findings highlight the associated risks of psoriasis, further suggesting that this disease is far more than “skin deep.” While the psoriasis patient may easily recognize the painful and uncomfortable symptoms of joint disease, the “silent” invisible symptoms of other associated diseases such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, and osteoporosis may not be as readily identified. Therefore, it is prudent for patients affected by psoriasis to have regular exams to identify potential development of any of these conditions in a timely manner.