Harvard Heart Letter

Psoriasis again linked to heart disease

On the surface, the vexing skin disease known as psoriasis (sore-EYE-uh-sis) seems to have nothing in common with heart disease. Yet research from around the globe suggests the two conditions are somehow linked.

Two reports strengthen the connections between psoriasis and heart disease. In a study of almost 18,000 Britons, major cardiac events (namely heart attack, stroke, and death from cardiovascular disease) were more common among those with psoriasis, occurring in 16.4 per 1,000 people per year, than among those without this skin condition, who had 11.6 events per 1,000 people per year (American Journal of Medicine, August 2011). In a huge study that included the entire population of Denmark from 1997 to 2006, atrial fibrillation, a heart-rhythm problem, and ischemic stroke, which is often caused by atrial fibrillation, were significantly more likely to occur in people with psoriasis (European Heart Journal, published online, Aug. 12, 2011).

How can a skin condition be connected to heart disease? Inflammation is probably the link. Psoriasis occurs when T cells, a type of white blood cell that normally protects the body against foreign substances, attach to skin cells. This joining activates the T cells and kicks off inflammation in the skin and throughout the body. Inflammation is also involved in starting and promoting heart disease.

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