The Strange Way Your Skin Can Predict Your Risk Of Heart Disease

High cholesterol levels, hypertension, and smoking are the top three risk factors for developing heart disease. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 47% of people across the country have one or more of these risk factors. Other risk factors include consuming excess alcohol, living a sedentary lifestyle, and eating foods high in unhealthy fats. 

While having high blood pressure or high cholesterol may seem like more obvious risk factors, seeing as they're directly tied to our heart health, predictors of heart disease can be found in more unexpected places, such as on the surface of our skin. People who have psoriasis may be more susceptible to cardiovascular disease, according to 2018 research published in the scientific journal Cureus. Roughly 7 million Americans are affected by the topical lesions, scaling, and itching that characterize the condition. These surface-level symptoms, however, stem from something much deeper going on inside the body.

The link between psoriasis and cardiovascular risk

Psoriasis is an inflammatory disease, and the American Academy of Dermatology Association explains that chronic inflammation can impact heart and blood vessel function over time. The relationship between psoriasis and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease has been seen in connection with more severe cases of psoriasis, while this link hasn't been observed as much in people with more mild cases. Researchers from the previously referenced 2018 literature review note how people with psoriasis tend to have a greater number of risk factors associated with heart disease, such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

Heart issues have also been seen in connection with psoriatic arthritis, a condition that affects about 20% of patients diagnosed with psoriasis, according to an updated 2024 article published in StatPearls. Compared to the general population, some research has shown that psoriatic arthritis patients are more prone to heart attack, angina, and the development of multiple cardiovascular diseases.

Psoriasis treatment may reduce heart disease risk

Although research findings have produced mixed results, those who undergo treatment for psoriasis may be able to reduce their risk for heart disease, reports the American Academy of Dermatology Association. Treatment of moderate to severe cases of psoriasis has been associated with a reduced number of patient heart attacks, stroke, and cardiovascular-related deaths.

Psoriasis treatment goes beyond managing the appearance of skin lesions, however. Medications like methotrexate, biologics, or ustekinumab may be prescribed to treat the condition as well as lower the risk of cardiovascular issues for high-risk patients. Implementing healthy lifestyle habits, such as maintaining a healthy weight, eating a well-rounded diet, engaging in regular physical activity, and keeping up with routine doctor's appointments can also help manage cases of psoriasis. While further long-term study is needed, experts emphasize the importance of education for physicians, cardiologists, and dermatologists regarding the potential connection between psoriasis and heart disease risk in order to aid in early detection, prevention, and intervention efforts.