What is psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune disease that inflames areas of skin. This condition causes discomfort and itching. It also causes raised skin lesions because of an abnormally fast turnover of skin cells.

Although this chronic condition can’t be cured, it can be managed. However, psoriasis can be connected to certain heart problems even if your psoriasis symptoms are under control.

Heart problems and psoriasis

Psoriasis, like other autoimmune diseases, causes the immune system to overreact to a perceived threat. This immune system reaction triggers inflammation in your body.

Inflammation and heart disease

Inflammation can take many forms. These may include reddened patches of skin on your body and psoriatic arthritis. Symptoms can also include conjunctivitis, inflammation of the lining of your eyelids.

Psoriasis may also take different forms. Generally, people with any type of psoriasis have a risk of heart attack that is almost three times greater than in people without psoriasis.

Blood vessels can also become inflamed. This can cause the development of atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is the buildup of a fatty substance called plaque inside your artery walls. Plaque slows or interrupts the flow of blood to your heart. This heightens your risk of heart disease and heart attack.

Some psoriasis treatments can result in irregular cholesterol levels. This can harden the arteries and make a heart attack even more likely. People with psoriasis have also been found to have an increased risk of coronary heart disease, according to the British Journal of Dermatology.

Psoriatic arthritis and heart arrhythmia

Up to 30 percent of people with psoriasis will eventually develop psoriatic arthritis. One study linked psoriasis to increased risks of heart arrhythmia. This is an indication of heart problems. The study concluded that psoriatic arthritis carries a higher risk of arrhythmia.

People who have severe forms of the skin disease and are under age 60 are more likely to develop heart disease, according to findings published in the American Journal of Cardiology.

Psoriasis can mean an increased risk of heart problems. But you can strengthen your heart through diet, exercise, and stress reduction.

Addressing your risk factors

Exercise

Making lifestyle adjustments such as quitting smoking and incorporating daily exercise can improve your heart health. The American Heart Association recommends exercising 75 to 150 minutes per week, depending on the intensity level of your workout. As far as the type of exercise, anything goes. Some suggestions include:

  • dancing
  • walking
  • swimming
  • jumping rope

Do whatever makes you happy — as long as you get your heart pounding. Vigorous, high-intensity workouts elevate your heart rate for longer periods. Aim for 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, but don’t worry if you can’t reach that goal. Shorter walks and jogs benefit your heart if done regularly.

Stress

Stress reduction and exercise can go hand in hand and benefit your cardiovascular system. Stress causes you to tense up and can intensify symptoms of heart disease and psoriasis. Physical activity can release physical and mental tension in many people. Relaxation as a practice through deep breathing and visualization can also help reduce stress.

Diet and nutrition

What you eat plays a role in improving heart health. Diet may also have a positive effect on psoriasis. A heart-healthy diet includes healthy fats and whole grains. It also involves reducing your intake of saturated fats, trans fats, and sodium.

Consider making these changes to your diet to improve your heart health:

  • Choose whole-grain pasta and bread, and brown rice.
  • Limit fried food and baked goods.
  • Concentrate on lean proteins such as fish, chicken, and beans.
  • Cook with healthy fat, which can be found in olive and flaxseed oils.

In addition to eating healthy, one study showed losing weight reduces the severity of psoriasis symptoms.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are important for people who have psoriasis and increased risk of heart disease. Your body can’t make these essential nutrients, so you need to get them through food.

Omega-3 fatty acids are an example of a “healthy fat.” They may lower your cholesterol levels and improve your cardiovascular system. Omega-3 fatty acids are building blocks in the production of hormones that help regulate a series of bodily functions. Increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids may lower triglyceride levels. This means your blood vessels are less likely to accumulate the plaque that can lead to heart disease.

Omega-3 fatty acids are mainly found in fatty fish like:

  • salmon
  • mackerel
  • tuna
  • sardines

Shrimp and scallops contain what is sometimes referred to as marine omegas.

Plant food sources of omega-3s include:

  • leafy vegetables
  • flax seeds
  • chia seeds
  • strawberries
  • raspberries
  • soy products such as tofu and miso
  • walnuts

Fish oil supplements are another way to increase omega-3 intake if you don’t get enough through your diet. Your doctor may advise you to take fish oil supplements if you have a risk for heart disease and psoriasis.

When to see your doctor

Consult your doctor if you have questions about your chronic skin condition or cardiovascular health. Annual checkups are recommended, especially if you’re over age 60.

If you have psoriasis, be aware of the risk factors and the symptoms of a heart attack. These include:

  • chest pain or discomfort
  • pain or discomfort in the arms or other areas of the upper body
  • back, neck, and jaw pain
  • shortness of breath
  • breaking out in a cold sweat
  • nausea
  • lightheadedness

If you experience these symptoms or have other reasons to suspect you’re having a heart attack, call 911 or local emergency services to get medical help right away.

Outlook

Understanding psoriasis can help you understand your risk of heart problems. Take the risks seriously and pursue a healthy lifestyle by eating well, getting daily exercise, and reducing stress. Be aware of the risk factors for heart problems so you can take control of your health.