Both psoriasis and diabetes are treatable health conditions that often require lifelong management. People with psoriasis are at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, but experts are still working to understand why.

Psoriasis is a common, chronic inflammatory disease that leads to inflamed patches of skin. Diabetes is a chronic health condition where your body doesn’t produce enough insulin or can’t efficiently use insulin. Both conditions are treatable with medications and lifestyle changes.

Psoriasis and diabetes share certain risk factors, such as being overweight or having obesity, and have been linked to certain genes. Researchers have also found evidence that inflammation caused by psoriasis may increase the risk of developing insulin resistance, the hallmark feature of type 2 diabetes.

In this article, we examine what we know so far about the link between psoriasis and diabetes as well as what managing both looks like.

General statistics

Both psoriasis and diabetes are common health conditions across the world. Here’s some context:

  • Per 2017 data, about 6.28 percent of the world’s general population (462 million people) is estimated to have type 2 diabetes.
  • An estimated 10.5 percent of Americans have diabetes, according to the National Institutes of Health. Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90 to 95 percent of those cases.
  • Around 3 percent of U.S. adults over 20 years old have psoriasis, according to an overview of National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data from 2011 to 2014.

It’s well-established that type 2 diabetes is more common in people with psoriasis than in the general population. Diabetes is considered a risk factor for developing psoriasis and vice versa. Those with severe psoriasis appear to be more at risk of developing diabetes in particular.

Data from several epidemiological studies back up the higher prevalence of type 2 diabetes among people with psoriasis, measuring it at around 11.6 percent, almost twice the global average.

A 2019 study analyzed the prevalence of diabetes in a group of nearly a million people with psoriasis and more than a million people without psoriasis. Researchers reported a “significant association” between the two health conditions.

During a 2018 study in the United Kingdom, researchers sought to investigate how psoriasis severity influences the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

They classified people with psoriasis into three groups:

  • those with less than 2 percent of their skin affected by psoriasis
  • those with 3 to 10 percent of their skin affected
  • those with more than 10 percent of their skin affected

Researchers found that people with over 10 percent of their body affected were at the highest risk of developing type 2 diabetes with a hazard ratio of 1.64 — meaning they were 64 percent more likely than people without psoriasis to develop type 2 diabetes.

For every additional 10 percent of body area affected, the person’s odds of developing diabetes increased by about 20 percent.

As the authors of a 2020 study explain, the connection between diabetes and psoriasis may be more than just one of the comorbidities and risk factors. The conditions may be driven by similar causes, specifically regarding genes, inflammation, and response to the environment.

Researchers are still trying to figure out why diabetes and psoriasis seem to be linked. Several possible connections have been posed.

Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory disease caused by immune system dysfunction. It’s characterized by the rapid division of skin cells, which causes flaky and itchy patches of skin varying in size and location. It’s a systemic inflammatory disease, meaning it causes inflammation of multiple organ systems.

Improperly regulated levels of pro-inflammatory molecules in people with psoriasis, such as cytokines and adipokines, are thought to be involved in the development of insulin resistance, the key characteristic of type 2 diabetes.

Increased levels of these pro-inflammatory molecules may also lead to the development of other conditions, such as:

It’s been suggested that certain genes may increase your susceptibility to developing both diabetes and psoriasis. In a 2017 study in China, researchers found the genes PTPN22, ST6GAL1, and JAZF1 were associated with increased susceptibility to both conditions.

Lifestyle factors such as unhealthy diets and exercise habits are closely linked to the development of type 2 diabetes, largely due to inflammation associated with obesity. Obesity is also a risk factor for the development of psoriasis.

Usually, type 1 diabetes symptoms start quickly over a period of weeks and most commonly affect children and adolescents. But type 2 diabetes can come on slowly, taking years to develop, and more commonly affects older adults.

Type 2 diabetes symptoms can include:

Psoriasis symptoms can vary by the individual and severity of the condition. It may look different depending on how much melanin is in your skin.

Common psoriasis symptoms include:

Some people with psoriasis experience painful or swollen joints. This condition is known as psoriatic arthritis. A 2020 study found that people with psoriatic arthritis are also at an elevated risk of developing diabetes.

Diabetes and psoriasis are treatable with a combination of medications, home remedies, and lifestyle changes.

The primary treatment for type 1 diabetes is insulin, and this is also used to treat some cases of type 2 diabetes. Your doctors may prescribe a number of other medications to help lower your blood sugar.

Type 2 diabetes doesn’t always require insulin treatment

Type 2 diabetes can also sometimes be treated solely with lifestyle modifications, such as increasing exercise, minimizing sugar intake, and losing weight, if necessary.

Here are some resources and tips for living with type 2 diabetes:

Psoriasis treatment often involves using topical creams to reduce inflammation and slow the growth of skin cells. Some creams are available over the counter, while others require a prescription. If your psoriasis symptoms are severe, you may need oral or injected treatments.

Options for treatment include:

Adjusting or practicing certain lifestyle habits may help you manage your psoriasis. For example:

If you’re experiencing the symptoms of psoriasis, diabetes, or both, it’s important to contact your primary care physician for an evaluation. If you already have a diagnosis for one of these conditions, you can also talk with your doctor about risk factors.

If left untreated, diabetes can cause life threatening complications, including diabetic coma. Psoriasis isn’t generally considered life threatening, but it can seriously impact your quality of life and worsen if not addressed.

If your doctor suspects that you have psoriasis, they’ll likely refer you to a skin specialist called a dermatologist. If you have joint pain associated with your psoriasis, your doctor may send you to a rheumatologist.

If your primary care doctor suspects diabetes, they’ll likely refer you to a doctor who specializes in conditions involving hormones, called an endocrinologist.

People with psoriasis are at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, but researchers are still trying to figure out why.

It’s thought that chronic inflammation caused by psoriasis may increase your risk of developing insulin resistance and other metabolic conditions. Researchers have also identified certain genes that may make you more susceptible to developing both conditions.

If there’s a history of either psoriasis or diabetes in your family or if you already live with one condition, it may be helpful to talk with your doctor about risk factors.

With proper medical care, diabetes and psoriasis are manageable, both separately and together. The right medication, dietary changes, and lifestyle adjustments can improve your outlook and quality of life.