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Women's Health: Skin condition linked with diabetes and hardening of the arteries

Researchers say many factors could play a role in the increased disease risks associated with psoriasis

People suffering from the chronic skin disorder psoriasis may also be at increased risk for diabetes and atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries — and the links are particularly strong in women.

There are several types of psoriasis, but the most common involves a reddening and scaling of the skin. Flare-ups can last weeks to years. The Canadian Dermatology Association estimates the disorder affects one million Canadians. The cause is unknown, but psoriasis is thought to involve abnormal activity of the immune system.

Researchers led by Dr. Jonathan Shapiro of Maccabi Health Services in Ramat Hasharon, Israel, analyzed data on more than 46,000 psoriasis patients and 1.5 million people without the condition.

Psoriasis patients had a 27 per cent higher risk of having diabetes and a 28 per cent higher risk of having atherosclerosis compared with people who did not have psoriasis. The association between psoriasis and diabetes was more prominent in women (37 per cent higher risk), as was the association between psoriasis and atherosclerosis (31 per cent higher risk).

The researchers also found there was an association between several types of psoriasis treatments and diabetes. Use of multiple corticosteroid skin creams increased the risk by 76 per cent, light therapy by 43 per cent and internal medication by more than 100 per cent. “These data raise the question whether treatments for psoriasis predispose patients for development of diabetes or atherosclerosis,” the researchers observe.

However, they point out that related factors, such as the higher frequency of smoking and obesity in psoriasis patients, could play a role in the increased risks. They also caution that their study does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between psoriasis and diabetes or atherosclerosis, and more research is needed to support the findings.