Your FAQs, Answered: Psoriasis and the Immune System

 While the exact cause of psoriasis is unknown, it’s thought that imbalances in the immune system result in the development of psoriasis skin lesions. Because your immune system functions differently, it can affect your health in a number of different ways throughout your lifetime.

You might be wondering: How does psoriasis impact your overall health? Can it get worse with age? Could it even be fatal?

Read on to understand the answers to these (and more) pressing questions.

Psoriasis skin lesions are thought to be the result of an overactive immune response.

With psoriasis, the body produces too many inflammatory agents, called cytokines, which normally help fight infections and heal injuries. But instead of focusing on fighting off an infection or injury, these cytokines also attack healthy tissue.

Psoriasis itself doesn’t weaken the immune system, but it’s a sign that the immune system isn’t working the way it should. Anything that triggers the immune system can cause psoriasis to flare up. Common ailments like ear or respiratory infections can cause psoriasis to flare.

Many people with psoriasis are prescribed immunosuppressive drugs to manage the condition. Because these drugs suppress the immune system, they increase your risk for contracting viruses like a cold and the flu. If you do get sick, these illnesses may last longer than they would if you didn’t take these medications.

Talk with your healthcare provider about ways to stay healthy. That includes getting an annual flu vaccine, washing your hands regularly, and adjusting your treatment plan if you do get sick.

Although psoriasis isn’t considered to be a terminal condition, a 2017 study found that people with psoriasis that covered at least 10 percent of their body had 1.79 times greater risk for death in comparison to the general population.

Findings also showed that these people with more severe psoriasis had a greater risk for developing other serious, potentially life threatening conditions. Those include:

  • chronic kidney disease
  • cardiovascular disease
  • diabetes

The study authors concluded that individuals with high surface area psoriasis should be screened for health prevention measures in order to help close the mortality gap.

People with psoriasis often experience other inflammatory-related health conditions. A 2015 studyTrusted Source outlined several conditions that may coexist with psoriasis, including:

  • psoriatic arthritis
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • depression
  • uveitis
  • metabolic syndrome
  • cardiovascular disease
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

According to a 2020 studyTrusted Source, people with psoriasis may also have a greater risk for developing an autoimmune condition, such as:

  • vitiligo
  • diabetes
  • thyroiditis
  • rheumatoid arthritis

Whether psoriasis itself is an autoimmune condition has yet to be proven. But it’s considered to be a T-cell mediated disorder of immune dysregulation.

Not everyone with psoriasis will be diagnosed with an additional inflammatory- or autoimmune-related health condition. But the risk for developing one does increase when you’re diagnosed with psoriasis.

If you have psoriasis, you may want to discuss your risk for these comorbid conditions with your healthcare provider.

Aging doesn’t make psoriasis worse. But as you get older, you may need to adjust your treatment plan. Your body may react differently to drugs you’ve taken over time. Or, it may no longer be safe for you to continue taking certain drugs.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, some of the following factors can affect your treatment plan once you turn 65:

  • It may be harder to reach areas of the body where you need to apply topical treatment.
  • Skin may become thin, or it may bruise or tear more easily when you apply a topical corticosteroid.
  • Light therapy may be challenging because of the time spent on your feet while standing in a light box.
  • Skin may be sensitive to light due to medications you’re taking for other health conditions, which makes light therapy more challenging.
  • Some systemic drugs may be riskier to take because of differences in kidney function as you age.

Keep an open line of communication with your healthcare provider about your psoriasis treatment plan and whether it should be adjusted as you age.

Maintaining overall good health can help strengthen your immune system. Avoid smoking and alcohol. Get plenty of rest, exercise regularly, and eat a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables.

If you feel your diet doesn’t provide the full range of nutrients your body needs to stay healthy, consider taking a multivitamin. Just talk with your healthcare provider before taking over-the-counter medications or supplements, as they may interfere with some psoriasis treatments.

Reducing stress can also help boost your immune system. Since stress is a common psoriasis trigger, managing stress can help you stay on top of your condition, as well.

When you have psoriasis, it impairs the way your immune system functions. That can lead to inflammation, which triggers psoriasis flares.

Because of this connection, people with psoriasis also have an increased risk for developing other health conditions.

Taking steps to improve immune system function by eating a healthy diet and reducing stress can help boost immunity, prevent related health issues, minimize psoriasis flares, and promote a long, healthy life.

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