People with a severe form of the skin disease psoriasis are likely to die at a younger age than their healthy peers, according to a study released Monday.
The illness appears to shorten life expectancy by about five percent in patients most afflicted, shaving more than three years off the life expectancy of a man and more than four off that of a woman, compared to people who don't have the condition.
The shortened life expectancy is comparable to what is seen in patients with a long history of hypertension, the researchers said.
"This study underscores just how serious this condition is," said Joel Gelfand, assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia and lead author on the paper.
"It's more than a disfiguring skin condition. It's an immunological illness that has a profound impact on the health and well-being of people who suffer with it for decades.
"Patients need to get regular health check-ups and follow a healthy lifestyle."
Psoriasis is a common, but incurable, skin disease characterized by outbreaks of scaly red patches of skin. The lesions can appear on any part of the body. Treatments include steroid medications and treatment with ultraviolet light.
The condition is thought to be at least partly genetic, and involves some immune dysfunction. It has been linked to depression, higher rates of smoking and alcohol use and diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and some forms of cancer.
For this study, Gelfand and his co-authors analyzed medical records of almost 4,000 patients with severe psoriasis, where the condition affected about 10 to 20 percent of their body, and 133,000 patients with a milder form of the condition.
The research team matched each patient with five healthy controls. All of the patients were from the United Kingdom.
The findings showed that the risk of death was 50 percent higher in patients with severe psoriasis compared to those without the illness. Individuals with mild psoriasis did not have a higher risk of death.
The study did not address the question of early mortality, but Gelfand speculated that it could be related to the immune dysfunction or inflammation that is part of the disease.
The study appears in the Archives of Dermatology, a journal of the American Medical Association.