A new study suggests severity of the skin condition psoriasis is associated with increased inflammation of the blood vessels, or vasculitis.

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Researchers have associated greater severity of psoriasis with increased inflammation of the blood vessels.

Senior author Dr. Nehal N. Mehta, a Lasker clinical investigator at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, and colleagues publish their findings in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology.

Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune skin disease estimated to affect around 7.5 million people in the US. The condition is characterized by red, flakey patches on the skin, most commonly on the elbows, knees, scalp, face, lower back, palms and soles of feet.

Past studies have suggested that people with psoriasis are at greater risk for heart attack and other cardiovascular events, as well as increased risk of cardiovascular-related death.

For their study, Dr. Mehta and colleagues set out to investigate whether psoriasis may be associated with vasculitis - a condition in which the immune system mistakingly attacks the blood vessels, causing them to inflame.

Inflammation of the blood vessels may lead to complications such as aneurism and blood clots, which can obstruct blood flow to the heart and raise risk for heart attack and stroke.

51% greater blood vessel inflammation with most severe psoriasis

To reach their findings, the team enrolled 60 adults with an average age of 47 who had psoriasis, alongside 20 adults with an average age of 41 who did not have the skin condition. All participants were at low risk for cardiovascular disease.

A dermatologist assessed the extensiveness of psoriasis among participants, which ranged from mild (less than 3% of the skin surface affected) to severe (at least 10% of the skin surface affected). Blood vessel inflammation was determined through a nuclear scan.

Compared with participants who were free of psoriasis, those with the most severe form of the skin condition experienced a 51% rise in blood vessel inflammation, and this association was still relevant even after accounting for other factors related to cardiovascular disease.

Overall, the team found that the more severe a participant's psoriasis, the more inflammation there was of their blood vessels. "In other words, what we see on the outside is mirrored on the inside," says Dr. Mehta.

The researchers say their findings support the theory that psoriasis and vasculitis share an underlying mechanism related to the immune system.

Dr. Mehta adds:

"People who have psoriasis - particularly if it is severe - should be assessed by their doctor for cardiovascular risk factors, including diabetes, high cholesterol and obesity. They should also maintain an active lifestyle, avoid smoking and follow a balanced diet."

Earlier this month, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting people with psoriasis are more likely to develop depression - a finding the researchers say may be related to the social reaction psoriasis patients receive in response to their appearance.