What’s the Connection Between Psoriasis and Hepatitis C?

Medically reviewed by Steven Kim, MD on January 14, 2016Written by Ashley Marcin on January 14, 2016

Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune condition that causes a rapid turnover of skin cells. Patches of skin irritation can appear on various parts of the body. These patches may be:

  • thick
  • scaly
  • red
  • itchy
  • painful

Though there’s no cure for psoriasis, researchers do know that certain infections can trigger symptoms. For example, if you have the hepatitis C virus (HCV), you may be at an increased risk of developing psoriasis.

Here’s more about the possible link between these two conditions.

What Is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a viral infection that spreads primarily through contact with infected blood. Transmission may happen through sharing needles or sexual contact with infected persons. HCV primarily affects the liver and can lead to inflammation.

Many people who have HCV don’t experience any symptoms until years after they’ve been infected. By this time, liver damage or cirrhosis is often discovered.

What Are the Symptoms of Hepatitis C?

When HCV causes symptoms, they’re typically flu-like. In the early stages, this can include:

  • fatigue
  • nausea
  • a fever
  • jaundice
  • dark urine
  • muscle pain
  • joint pain

As the infection progresses, you may experience:

  • bleeding
  • bruising
  • itchy skin
  • weight loss
  • swelling in your legs
  • spider angiomas, or collections of blood vessels near the skin’s surface

What Does Hepatitis C Have to Do with Psoriasis?

The link between HVC and psoriasis is explored in a study published by the Journal of Dermatology. Though having the virus itself doesn’t directly cause psoriasis, those who have a predisposition may develop symptoms when the body is under stress from the infection. HCV appeared before psoriasis in up to 91 percent of the 54 people who tested positive for both HCV and psoriasis.

In other words, HCV may serve as a trigger for psoriasis if you’re already genetically prone to getting psoriasis.

Prevalence

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are currently about 3.5 million people with chronic HCV in the United States.

Psoriasis affects men and women at an equal rate. Psoriasis affects around 1.9 percent of the African-American population and 3.6 percent of the Caucasian population.

Are Genetics Responsible for Psoriasis?

How many people have both HCV and psoriasis? It’s hard to tell. More studies are needed to explore the link between HCV and psoriasis, as well as its prevalence in these populations.

What Are the Risk Factors for Psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a disease that doesn’t discriminate. It affects women, men, and children. If you have a family history of psoriasis, you may be at higher risk for it.

Other risk factors for psoriasis include:

  • viral infections, such as HCV and HIV
  • bacterial infections
  • stress
  • obesity
  • smoking

Talk with your doctor if you have any of these risk factors and are experiencing psoriasis flare-ups or other skin irritation. If it’s left untreated, you may develop complications such as:

  • psoriatic arthritis
  • diabetes
  • heart disease
  • kidney disease
  • high blood pressure

Treatment Options

Have you already been diagnosed with HCV, psoriasis, or both? Since both conditions are chronic, management of symptoms is usually the focus of any treatment your doctor will offer you.

Psoriasis Treatments

Psoriasis is a lifelong condition that can’t be cured, though symptoms can come and go. The three groups of treatments available are topical treatments, light therapy, and systemic medications. Your doctor will help determine which group is best for you depending on the severity of your symptoms.

You may try applying different corticosteroids, vitamins, moisturizers, or retinoids to your skin. Light therapy, also called phototherapy, involves exposing your skin to natural or artificial light with ultraviolet wavelengths. If your psoriasis doesn’t respond to these treatments, oral or injectable medications might be your next step.

Hepatitis C Treatments

Though most HCV cases do become chronic, you may have success with early treatment. There are certain medications your doctor may give you that can work to clear the virus from your system. You’ll need to take these medications from 24 to 72 weeks. Additionally, you’ll need to be clear of the virus for 12 weeks to deem the treatment effective.

Otherwise, you may eventually need a liver transplant. It’s important to note that getting a new liver will not knock off the virus. That new liver is also at risk of infection, so you’ll likely continue antiviral medications after surgery.

Treatments for Both Psoriasis and Hepatitis C

Some psoriasis treatments aren’t safe if you have certain liver conditions. This includes those caused by HCV. In one study, researchers found that certain topical medications can be effective for people with mild irritation. Ultraviolet B phototherapy may also be helpful for people with both HCV and moderate to severe psoriasis.

More studies need to be done in this area to find treatment that’s safe and effective for people with both conditions.

When to See Your Doctor

More studies are needed to explore the link between HCV and psoriasis. Then, doctors will know with higher certainty what treatments to suggest when these conditions coexist. Regardless, don’t let your symptoms go untreated. Each condition can worsen and produce greater complications the longer it continues.

If you’re experiencing skin irritation that just won’t go away, visit your doctor or ask for a referral to a dermatologist. Be sure to share your complete medical history and include mentioning any previous recreational drug usage, especially if you’re at risk for or might have HCV.

Your doctor will ask you about your medical history and symptoms. Then, they’ll perform an exam and either prescribe a course of treatment or send you to a specialist for further testing.

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