The itchy, scaly skin condition associated with psoriasis, long known to negatively affect a patient's overall quality of life, has been linked to other serious health problems, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and metabolic syndrome.

A national study published in April 2011 in Archives of Dermatology showed that 40 percent of people with psoriasis had metabolic syndrome — a group of health problems that include too much fat around the waist, elevated blood pressure, high triglycerides, elevated blood sugar, and low HDL ("good") cholesterol — compared with 23 percent of the general population. Psoriasis patients were 15 percent more likely to have abdominal fat, a culprit in metabolic syndrome, than those without psoriasis.

It is unclear whether the metabolic syndrome causes the psoriasis or vice versa, but the link may explain why patients with psoriasis are at increased risk for other health issues.

Previous research has connected psoriasis to an increased incidence of psoriatic arthritis, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, depression, obesity, and even other immune-related conditions such as Crohn's disease.

Psoriasis and Heart Health

While psoriasis has long been associated with increased cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as obesity and smoking, these were thought to be related to the disease’s psychosocial burden.

But recent research indicates an increased risk of heart and circulation issues in psoriasis patients even when controlling for major cardiovascular risk factors — a finding that suggests that psoriasis itself and the inflammation associated with the condition may be a risk factor for developing atherosclerosis and myocardial infarction, according to Alexandra Boer Kimball, MD, the chief executive officer of Harvard Medical Faculty Physicians at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

Indeed, a review of literature published in April 2014 in the journal Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology found that people with severe psoriasis are at a greater risk for major cardiovascular events.

Experts recommend that people with psoriasis get regular, comprehensive exams from their doctors and work to improve their physical and mental health while avoiding high-risk behaviors such as smoking, overeating, and excessive sun exposure.

The Link to Depression

Psoriasis has long been known to cause considerable emotional stress for patients, including an increased incidence of mood disorders. The National Psoriasis Foundation reports that about 24 percent of people with psoriasis have depression.

"Depression in patients with psoriasis is a serious concern that should be addressed, as it may significantly impact a patient's overall emotional and physical well-being," Dr. Kimball says. "Another concern is that depression may be a contributing factor to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, which as we know is already an increased risk in psoriasis patients."

Increased Cancer Risk

A study examining data from multiple sources in the United Kingdom, published in March 2016 in JAMA Dermatology noted an increased risk of certain cancers in psoriasis patients, such as lymphoma and non-melanoma skin cancer.

The risk was highest in patients with psoriasis who received a systemic therapy such as methotrexate or phototherapy. Researchers are still investigating the connection between some of these cancers and specific psoriasis treatments that suppress the immune system, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation.

Following the recommended routine health screenings for cancers and avoiding high-risk behaviors such as smoking, alcohol abuse, and sun exposure that raise the risk of developing certain cancers should be a priority for psoriasis patients, according to Kimball.

Kimball and her colleagues urge people with psoriasis to work with their dermatologists and physicians to outline an appropriate preventive program based on their individual medical history and known risk factors.