Illustration of a blood vessel being examined by a doctor's hand holding a magnifying glass
Credit: iStock/sorbetto

Key Takeaways

  • People with psoriatic disease have an increased risk for venous thromboembolism (blood clots), which can cause serious complications.
  • Researchers also found an increased risk of peripheral vascular disease, a kind of circulation disorder.
  • Patients should be aware of this link and know the symptoms of blood clots and pulmonary embolism.

While many people with psoriatic disease are focused on the state of their skin, psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis are inflammatory diseases that can affect many organs and systems throughout the body.

Now there’s good reason to believe that people with psoriatic disease are significantly more likely than others to develop serious blood clots.

While this sounds scary, it’s important for people with psoriatic disease to be aware of the link so they can pay extra attention to symptoms of blood clots and see a doctor if needed.

In a new systematic review and meta-analysis (a study that analyzes data from other studies), published in the journal JAMA Dermatology, researchers from Taiwan examined findings from 13 earlier studies that contained a total of more than 12 million people with psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis. They determined that people with psoriasis had a 1.26-fold (a 26 percent) increased risk for venous thromboembolism (VTE), a type of blood clot that occurs in the deep veins (usually in the legs).

If a VTE breaks off it can travel to the lungs and become a pulmonary embolism, which is a medical emergency.

The researchers also found that psoriasis patients had a 1.27-fold (27 percent) increased risk for peripheral vascular disease, which is also known as peripheral arterial disease. This problem is a circulation disorder. It’s generally caused by a buildup of plaque in the blood vessels in the legs or feet, but it can also be caused by blood clots in those vessels.

Peripheral vascular disease raises the risk of serious cardiovascular issues, including heart attack and stroke.

The researchers found that the risk of VTE and peripheral vascular disease was especially high among women as well as those with psoriatic arthritis (PsA), who have joint disease in addition to skin lesions.

“There are several possible explanations for these findings,” they wrote. “First, increased levels of inflammatory and [pro-clotting] markers have been found among patients with psoriasis,” adding that the inflammatory protein interleukin-17 plays a role in both psoriasis and cardiovascular disease.

“Second, recent studies suggest that platelets [blood cells that promote clotting] are activated in psoriasis” and may set off an inflammatory response in the lining of blood vessels and, in turn, lead to excessive clotting.

The researchers concluded that physicians and patients should be aware of the link between psoriasis and blood clots and keep an eye out for pulmonary embolism symptoms, including chest pain and painful swelling.

“[Additional] risk factors, such as obesity, physical inactivity, smoking, and varicose veins, should be identified and treated in patients with psoriasis, and medications like hormone-related therapies should be prescribed cautiously,” they concluded.

Found This Study Interesting? Get Involved

If you are diagnosed with arthritis or another musculoskeletal condition, we encourage you to participate in future studies by joining CreakyJoints’ patient research registry, ArthritisPower. ArthritisPower is the first-ever patient-led, patient-centered research registry for joint, bone, and inflammatory skin conditions. Learn more and sign up here.

Chen T, et al. Association of Psoriasis With Incident Venous Thromboembolism and Peripheral Vascular Disease: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Dermatology. December 2021. doi: https://doi.org/10.1001/jamadermatol.2021.4918.

Peripheral Vascular Disease. Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/peripheral-vascular-disease.

Peripheral Vascular Disease. Texas Heart Institute. https://www.texasheart.org/heart-health/heart-information-center/topics/peripheral-vascular-disease.