Psoriasis in and of itself is typically not life-threatening, but the disease can lead to a number of serious health conditions and complications if left untreated. These include psoriatic arthritis, eye conditions, anxiety and depression, obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, kidney disease, emotional problems, and other autoimmune diseases. In addition to these, the most severe type of psoriasis called erythrodermic psoriasis can trigger infection, pneumonia, and congestive heart failure.
Psoriatic arthritis is by far the most common complication, which is a blend of psoriasis and arthritis that results when the body mistakenly attacks otherwise healthy joints. Up to 30 percent of patients with psoriasis will develop this condition and may experience swollen joints, redness of the fingers and elbows, and debilitating joint damage. The sooner it is treated with anti-rheumatic and anti-inflammatory medications, the sooner the body can stop the joint damage and improve mobility.
Eye conditions and certain eye diseases are more prevalent with psoriasis and include conjunctivitis, blepharitis, and uveitis. This is because psoriasis affects the immune system and the same inflammation that affects skin cells can affect delicate eye tissue as well.
Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand and are both associated with psoriasis. Because psoriasis is chronic and unpredictable, flare-ups can take a toll on mental health and sufferers report feeling self-conscious due to the unpleasant appearance of plaques. This social anxiety can then lead to feelings of isolation and sadness for missing out on events and ultimately result in depression.
Obesity is linked to psoriasis as both a risk factor and a complication. In terms of the latter, doctors have found that people with psoriasis are more likely to gain weight and become obese. One explanation is that the same inflammation that causes obesity may also play a role in the development of psoriasis. Another theory is that people with psoriasis tend to be less active, resulting in weight gain over time.
Type 2 diabetes is usually a complication of severe psoriasis due to increased levels of insulin. Essentially, the body becomes resistant to insulin and is no longer able to convert glucose into energy. The more severe the psoriasis, the greater the chance of developing type 2 diabetes.
Cardiovascular disease is closely tied to psoriasis in that the two major risk factors for CVD include being diagnosed with severe psoriasis during childhood or young adulthood, and being diagnosed with metabolic syndrome as a complication of psoriasis. Medications for psoriasis can also increase the risk of cardiovascular disease since these often increase heart rate and cholesterol levels, and can be extremely taxing on the heart.
Other autoimmune diseases which may appear with psoriasis, aside from the common condition called psoriatic arthritis, include celiac disease, multiple sclerosis, lupus, and Crohn’s disease. The latter of these is an inflammatory bowel disease, which usually affects the small intestine and the start of the colon. This is because psoriasis itself is an autoimmune disease and therefore affects the functioning of the body’s entire immune system.
Generally speaking, you can reduce the risk of psoriasis and psoriasis-related complications through lifestyle interventions. Developing healthy habits such as eating a well-balanced diet and managing stress properly, as well as refraining from poor habits like alcohol and smoking, can prevent both flare-ups and these potential complications.